Sunshine Vitamin

Sunset at Schwiebert Park, Rock Island, IL

Sunset at Schwiebert Park, Rock Island, IL

The sun, our life-giving star, sank beneath the Centennial Bridge, and then below the Mississippi River horizon line. Three blue heron had just flown overhead. I was taking in the last rays of the days, and thinking about the shortening days. This lead me to think about “the sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D, which isn’t a vitamin at all, but is a stem-cell regulating hormone.

I first realized how common vitamin D deficiency is from an evening newscast. Dr. John Whitcomb, a member of Aurora Hospital’s Emergency Department, said he gives most patients who walk through the ED doors, a shot of 50,000 units of vitamin D (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D, formerly thought to mainly help with bone formation and healing, has benefits for many body systems. Adequate amounts have been shown to ward off depression and most types of cancer. It is key in cardiovascular, bone, and immunological health.

Arthritis is only one of many conditions that can be ameliorated with the correct level of Vitamin D; read about other conditions that call for more of this sunshine “vitamin” and  other valuable information about Vitamin D.

According to Dr. Whitcomb, even if you spend time outdoors in the sun during the wintertime, the sun angle, at the latitude of Milwaukee, is such that your body cannot manufacture vitamin D. It relies on vitamin D stores in the body, accumulated during late Spring through Summer. There are a few foods that naturally provide vitamin D; they include mostly wild-caught fish, meat, and eggs.

It’s interesting to me, that if you consider indigenous diets, those in Northern latitudes contain a lot of fresh fish.

How much is enough? My primary physician, in Wisconsin, took a 4,000 IU (unit) supplement. At the cardiologist’s office I went to in Milwaukee, one of the cardiologists had all his patients take 4,000 IU. The American Cancer Society recommends 4,000 IU. Dr. John Whitcomb goes into detail about vitamin D and heart health. Here is an explanation of his 20/20/20/20 “rule.” The current RDA is only 400 IU, the amount to prevent rickets. This amount was established at a time when vitamin D was thought to mostly just affect bone health.

Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, some people have concerns about toxicity. This can be an issue, as well, if you are receiving it by injection in large doses. I’ve heard 2,000 IU recommended as a dose, if you are concerned about toxicity. But, I do not dispense medical advice, and your doctor can check your blood level of vitamin D3 with a simple test. If you are low, you can decide whether to supplement with your diet, oral supplements, or with reasonable amounts of good ol’ sunshine.

Be Well!

(Sidenote: 1/11/16 revision updates some links related to Dr. John Whitcomb that were not working. Apologies for any frustration.)

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