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What does Vitamin D do in the body?
Vitamin D, as many of you may know, is the key in the absorption and distribution of calcium, and thus supports our bones, skin, and immune system.
Vitamin D is what we call a “pre-hormone” as it is eventually metabolized into a steroid in your blood. In this way, it doesn’t actually behave very much like a vitamin.
The human body needs about 1 200 International Units of Vitamin D per day to function properly.
Our vitamin D needs to fluctuate with things like with our stress level, so 1 200 is only a general estimate. Vitamin D is found in lots of fatty dairy products like butter, cheese, cream, and raw milk. It is also found in fatty fish and in your grandmother’s favorite— cod liver oil.
Most people, however, get the bulk of their vitamin D from sunlight. But now, more than ever, we’ve been hearing a lot about vitamin D deficiencies. So really, what gives it? The sun is free! What’s the problem?
Why are people deficient in vitamin D?
There are five primary possibilities as to why this is happening more lately:
1. We just started testing for it.
The sudden rise in vitamin D deficiencies might be misleading. As it turns out, doctors have only recently started testing for vitamin D.
When doctors weren’t testing for vitamin D, the symptoms of the deficiency might have been assumed to be something else, or missed entirely. Maybe vitamin D deficiency has been a problem for much longer than we realize.
2. We spend more time indoors.
More and more people work indoors or in offices. More and more of our pursuits are indoors, in front of screens. There is no denying that on the whole, we are spending a lot more time indoors than we used to.
Fear of skin cancers also keep us out of the sun. But we need the sun to produce the bulk of our vitamin D, so our technology-centered lives are likely contributing to our collective lack of vitamin D.
3. Low cholesterol. Really.
Vitamin D is created by a chemical reaction set off by sunlight. Another part of the equation? Cholesterol in our skin. Without enough cholesterol in our bodies, we can’t get our vitamin D from the sun.
Because so many people have had high cholesterol, we’re now seeing a rise in diets that lower cholesterol… and perhaps by consequence, include vitamin D.
4. Lack of bile.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means we need bile to digest it.
A sick liver or gallbladder can cause you to have difficulty digesting fats and thus getting fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) into your blood, even if you are eating plenty of vitamin D-rich food. If you aren’t producing enough bile, or if your gallbladder is irritated or clogged, vitamin D deficiency may result.
In my opinion, this is the most overlooked cause of vitamin D deficiency. Even if you have enough cholesterol in your skin, enough sun on your face, enough vitamin D, enough bile to digest the fats, excessive cortisol can block the receptors needed to receive vitamin D.
Cortisol and steroids fit into the same receptors, so an influx of cortisol can take up the spaces that vitamin D needs to do its job.
These explanations also highlight some of the major reasons on why supplementing with vitamin D doesn’t correct the deficiency. Pharmacies, in fact, sometimes dispense a form of vitamin D that doesn’t do any good.
I’ve heard of patients taking mega-doses of vitamin D (50 000 IUs!) once a week, and sometimes coming down with vitamin toxicity.
Vitamin D toxicity can result in symptoms like muscle weakness, fatigue, and more serious symptoms like kidney stones and calcium buildup in the heart and lungs.
Another frequently overlooked problem relating to vitamin D is…
Vitamin F: The Right Hand Man
In nature, all vitamins have a complementary vitamin. These vitamins have a synergistic relationship in the human body, and in the case of vitamin D, that complement is vitamin F. Vitamin D and vitamin F work together to manage calcium in the body.
Vitamin D moves calcium from the stomach into the blood; vitamin F takes calcium from the blood and puts it into the skin tissues that need it. Barring every other factor, if you don’t have vitamin F, vitamin D can only do half the work.
Where vitamin D comes from saturated fat sources like dairy, vitamin F comes from polyunsaturated fatty acids (also known as “omega-3s”), found in fatty fish, seeds, nuts (flax, safflower, sunflower, walnut, pumpkin seeds) and cod liver oil.
Only cod liver oil contains equal amounts of both vitamins, which is why it has long been touted as a miracle supplement. It is important to pair saturated and unsaturated fats in order to balance these two complementary vitamins.
Without adequate vitamin F, calcium can’t get where it needs to be. This can resut in a number of skin problems like hives and sun sensitivity. It can also cause muscle cramps and fatigue, on top of immune difficulties.
Identifying and solving a vitamin D deficiency can be tricky due to all of these different causes and related issues. One thing I can say for sure: mega-dosing on a vitamin D supplement is not the answer.
It’s never that simple! Start, instead, by examining your stress levels, diet, and gallbladder. The solution might be as simple as some stress-reducing acupressure, a dose of gallbladder formula with dinner, and a tablet of grandma’s good old cod liver oil.
Know the importance of Vitamin D and see more Nutrition advice from Dr. Berg Video Blog.