Vitamin D Levels for Healthy Hormones
On today’s HEALTH WIZARD PODCAST – Let’s talk about something you might be doing RIGHT NOW that may be putting you at risk for developing severe health side effects.
When it comes to overall health and hormone health specifically, we often hear from our doctors, naturopaths, authors, bloggers, and even support groups, that if you take this magic pill…all of your health troubles will get resolved.
If you live in America, you’re probably supplementing with vitamin D because you’ve been told that you need a lot of it. Could this be true?
So, let’s look at vitamin D – what it is, what it’s for, what it is not for, and how it affects your hormone health.
(transcript of the podcast below)
How much of vitamin d is too much?
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Did you know that vitamin D is actually a hormone and not a vitamin?!
The way you get this hormone is by being out in the sunlight. When you’re outside, the sun kisses your skin, the invisible droplets of oil on your skin collect it and then you absorb
Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is known for a couple of things, although there are numerous claims that it’s a miracle cure for a lot of health conditions.
The role of vitamin D is very simple…
Absorb calcium. Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps build bones and keep bones strong and healthy.
Block the release of parathyroid hormone. This hormone reabsorbs bone tissue, which makes bones thin and brittle. Vitamin D prevent this from happening, thus leading to healthier bones.
Other ways vitamin D is thought to help us, and how much we would need to take, is an area of ongoing research and a
If you Google “the benefits of vitamin D” you are going to come up with a list of fairytale-like promises. You might read that vitamin D might help prevent colon, prostate, and breast cancers. That there is also a possibility that it may help you treat diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or MS (multiple sclerosis). However, there is not enough evidence, not enough research at the moment to prove that any such claims are valid.
If this were the case, then in America especially, no one would have cancers, high blood pressure, MS or any other health challenges, because vitamin D is so magical that it could solve it all, and it is prescribed by medical and naturopathic doctors and recommended by a million blogs and books.
In reality, it’s simply not the case.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) got fed up with such unfounded claims. They issued a report based on a lengthy examination of data by a group of experts.
To sum up…
They estimated that a vitamin D level of 20 ng/mL or higher was adequate for good bone health, and subsequently, a level below 20 was considered a vitamin D deficiency.
This review found no conclusive evidence that vitamin D, by itself, offers the wide-range of health benefits, as claimed in the mainstream health world that you heard about.
“Despite the many claims of benefit surrounding vitamin D in particular, the evidence did not support a basis for a causal relationship between vitamin D and many of the numerous health outcomes purported to be affected by vitamin D intake,” the IOM committee concluded.
You might hear from your doctors that these findings are outdated and that we need to have our vitamin D levels at 40-60+ ng/mL. They are so convincing that their patients believe them. People swear by vitamin D.
I often hear people say: “Elena, when I started to take vitamin D I started to feel better.” There is a difference between “feeling better”, especially when the placebo effect might play a role, and getting and staying healthy.
IOM decided that they needed to put out an updated statement, regarding vitamin D recommendations, since they felt that their recommendation of 20 ng/mL was being taken out of context.
Their more recent opinion on the right target level of vitamin D is presented in an article titled “Vitamin D Deficiency: Is There Really a Pandemic?” published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In this piece, several of the leading epidemiologists and endocrinologists who were on the original IOM committee argue for a lowering of the currently accepted cutoff level of 20!
While your doctor says your levels should be 50-70 ng/mL, IOM concluded a level of 20 as optimal, and now they are stating that it should be even lower than that!
They stated that the level they estimated as acceptable was never intended to be used to define vitamin D deficiency. They feel that we are over-screening for vitamin D deficiency, and unnecessarily treating individuals who are perfectly fine.
Based on their analysis, a more appropriate cutoff for vitamin D deficiency would be much lower – at 12.5 ng/mL.
They examined a massive amount of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2007 through 2010 and found that less than 6% of Americans had vitamin D levels less than 12.5. A cutoff of 12.5 ng/mL would most certainly eliminate the “pandemic” of vitamin D deficiency, that your NDs are telling you is happening right now.
Dr. Joel Finkelstein, associate director of the Bone Density Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, whose research in this field spans over three decades, agreed with the authors of the NEJM article. He states that we are currently over-screening for vitamin D deficiency, and overtreating people who are getting enough vitamin D through diet and through sun exposure.
“Vitamin D has been hyped massively,” he states. “We do not need to be checking the vitamin D levels of most healthy individuals.”
This man’s whole career is spent studying and treating bones. If anyone, he should know what makes strong bones.
He points out that from an evolutionary standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that higher vitamin D levels would be beneficial to humans.
“Vitamin D is actually quite hard to find in naturally occurring food sources,” he points out. “Yes, we can get vitamin D from the sun, but our bodies evolved to create darker skin in the parts of the world that get the most sun.”
So, if you think about populations in Africa, their skin tones are much darker than of those living in the Northern Hemisphere. Their skin protects them from more sun exposure and makes it more difficult to absorb vitamin D. In fact, a person with darker skin tone will need almost twice the time in the sun to absorb the same levels of vitamin D as compared to a person with a lighter skin tone.
Dr. Finkelstein goes on to say that,
“If vitamin D is so critical to humans, why would we evolve in this way, to require something that is hard to come by, and then evolve in such a way as to make it harder to absorb?”
Dr. Finkelstein and his colleagues published a study of over 2,000 perimenopausal women who had been followed for almost 10 years, and they found that vitamin D levels, less than 20, were associated with a slightly increased risk of non-traumatic fractures, but otherwise were fine.
They concluded that because few foods contain vitamin D, vitamin D supplementation is warranted in women at midlife only if they hit rock bottom.
“For perimenopausal women or other groups of people with higher fracture risk, certainly a level of 20 or above is ideal,” and he adds: “For the vast majority of healthy individuals, levels much lower, 15, maybe 10, are probably perfectly fine, and so I would say I agree with what the authors of the New England Journal perspective article are saying” said Finkelstein.
I am imagining that at this point you are either thinking: “Finally! Something that makes sense!” or, you are upset, because you hold onto a belief that you absolutely MUST have higher levels of vitamin D. I feel your pain. We are a byproduct of what we hear.
Here’s the truth…
Modern day medicine and science is still in its infancy. We are bound to make mistakes and make recommendations, such as you are hearing about vitamin D from a lot of healthcare practitioners. However, with time, we should course-correct.
If we look back to days of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, he recommended that we treat people with diet and lifestyle changes…going for a walk! Whereas present day medicine tells us: “Pop a pill! Have a surgery! Cut out a body part. Take medicine. Take a supplement. Maybe that will help you.” That’s certainly NOT the way to address any health issues, including your hormone imbalance. If it were, you would have been the healthiest version of yourself by now with all the supplements you’ve been taking.
So, you’ve been duped! (I’ve been there too!) You are taking vitamin D. Is it 5,000 IUs? 1,000? Or, god forbid, 50,000 IUs, because your doctor told you that you are extremely deficient!
If you are supplementing with vitamin D, here is what you are putting yourself at risk for.
(Note: There are more studies available on Vitamin D confirming the findings presented in this article. Some of them are listed in the reference section below.)
Vitamin D Supplementation May Lead to These Severe Side Effects
If you’re supplementing with vitamin D, you may be at risk of vitamin D toxicity
Possible Supplemental Vitamin D Side Effects
- Vitamin D may increase calcium levels and increase the risk of hardening of the arteries. So, when you think you’re doing a good thing for your bones, you might be harming your arteries.
- It may cause an allergic skin reaction
- Vit D may affect blood sugar levels
- Excessive amounts of vitamin D can lead to toxicity, leading to hypercalcemia (too much calcium), causing kidney failure, abnormal heart rhythms (think of those heart palpitations you might have been having), and even coma.
- Kidney stones
- Confusion or disorientation
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain
- Weight loss or poor appetite (not an ideal way to lose extra pounds!)
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Nausea, vomiting, or constipation
- Increase risk of colon polyps
So, while you are popping vitamin D, thinking you are doing good, you are putting yourself at risk for these severe side effects.
Good news!!! There is a better way to get vitamin D!
When I was preparing myself for pregnancy, I got my labs done to be sure everything looked good. My vitamin D level was in the mid-twenties range. My doctor immediately recommended supplementation. He wanted me to be at 30 ng/mL or higher. I decided against supplements. Instead, since I was studying for an exam, I grabbed my textbooks and daily headed to the pool. Combining pleasure and business turned out to be a good thing for me. Only a few weeks later my vitamin D levels were over 40!
Never took a pill! My body was capable to do what it was designed for – absorb, synthesize and use vitamin D from sunlight.
Best Ways to Get Vitamin D
Getting all the vitamin D you need is much easier and pleasant than you think.
For fair skin type, you only need thirty minutes of sun exposure to the face, legs, or back – without sunscreen – at least twice a week! That’s it!
Of course, I would recommend getting out in the sun daily. You need to get fresh air and move your body to stay healthy. Your body is not designed to stay glued to your office chair or the couch. Daily sun exposure will allow you to store enough vitamin D for the cold months…even if you live in places like Washington or Oregon, or in England.
For medium skin types, like my daughter’s, increase times spent in the sun by at least 15 minutes. And for darker skin types, like my hubby’s, shoot for 45-60 minutes in the sun at least twice a week.
(Note – do not use sunblock when using sun exposure to collect and convert Vitamin D)
OTHER CAUSES FOR VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
In my last ten years of coaching, I had only one client with vitamin D levels below 10. She lived in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot freely show their skin, thus benefiting from sun exposure. Even in her case, she was able to correct it with minimal vit D supplementation and finding a rooftop where she could bask in the sun several times a week.
You might be supplementing, but are still low on vitamin D. With new references in mind, you might find out that you are just fine. However, if you are below 12.5-20 ng/mL, there are other factors to consider. Underlying health conditions can impede vitamin D absorption and conversion.
One study drew a link between hypertension and decreased vitamin D levels. When subjects of the study were treated for hypertension, their vitamin D levels increased while never stepping outside or taking
The conclusion of the study was that an underlying health condition can impede vitamin D conversion in the body.
If vitamin D levels were an important determinant of health status, then taking supplemental vitamin D should improve health outcomes, but according to most studies it does not.
Vitamin D supplementation is another example of something that sounded like it was a great idea. It turned out that it was not.
To get optimal levels of vitamin D, regardless of your age, fix any possible underlying health conditions and GET OUT IN THE SUN! Hit the walking trail. Go frolic in the sun with your family! Do not live a life filled with excuses that you are too busy or too sick to do it.
Sun exposure, fresh air, movement and a great diet is all that most of us need to get and stay healthy. Start with the basics and see if all of your health troubles resolve on their own before trying anything drastic that might come with more side effects than benefits.
- Vitamin D and Hypertension –
- Mitri J, Dawson-Hughes B, Hu FB, Pittas AG. Effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on pancreatic B cell function, insulin sensitivity, and glycemia in adults at high risk of diabetes: the Calcium and Vitamin D for Diabetes Mellitis (CaDDM) randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. Epub June 29 2011; doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.011684
- Bolland M, Grey A, Gamble G, Reid I. “The effect of vitamin D supplementation on skeletal, vascular, or cancer outcomes: a trial sequential meta-analysis.”
Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 2014;2(4):307-320
Marlene Busko “Future Trials Unlikely to Support Vitamin D Supplementation.”
Medscape Medical News January 24, 2014
- Avenell A, MacLennan GS, Jenkinson DJ, et al. Long-term follow-up for mortality and cancer in a randomized placebo-controlled trial of vitamin D3 and/or calcium (RECORD trial). J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011; DOI:10.1210jc.2011-1309.
- Crockett SD, Barry E, Mott LA et al. “Calcium and vitamin D supplementation and increased risk of serrated polyps: results from a randomized clinical trial.” Gut Published online March 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2017-315242
- Vieth R (2007). “Vitamin D Toxicity, Policy, and Science.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2007;22(suppl 2)
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