March 15, 2009
A letter published in the April 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine states that almost half of critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs) are deficient in vitamin D, a common thread increasingly being linked to all sorts of adverse health conditions. Dr. Paul Lee, an endocrinologist and research fellow at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia and author of the recent study, admits a direct correlation between vitamin D deficiency and serious illness; this is a hypothesis long acknowledged by many in the natural health community who understand the critical role vitamin D plays in maintaining health and preventing disease.
A necessary component in perpetuating wellness, vitamin D facilitates proper blood sugar and calcium levels in the body as well as maintains proper heart function and gastrointestinal health. It is also said to protect the body from various infections, osteoporosis, diabetes, and even cancers. Since vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, it is best obtained through skin exposure to sunlight whose UVB rays cause the body to produce the vitamin naturally and to the proper levels.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily intake, or adequate intake (AI), of vitamin D in healthy adults under 50 is a mere 200 international units (IU) while the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends between 200 IU and 400 IU. While these levels may be adequate in preventing rickets, they have been found to be far too low in preventing the major diseases previously mentioned.
Many naturopathic physicians recognize that anywhere between 4,000 IU and 10,000 IU of vitamin D a day is a more appropriate therapeutic range, considering upper levels of vitamin D are generally recognized to be about 40,000 IU per day, a level far greater than the recommended daily intake thresholds established by mainstream medicine. Contrary to popular misperception, vitamin D is not dangerous nor is it toxic. With a therapeutic index of 10 (40,000/4,000), vitamin D is considered by the Vitamin D Council to be twice as safe as water in terms of “overdosing”. In other words, vitamin D is safe and beneficial in relatively large amounts.
While sun exposure is the best method of achieving optimal vitamin D levels, it is difficult during the winter months to get enough exposure to the sun to generate adequate amounts of it. Due to the increasingly acute angle of the sun during the winter months, UVB rays have a harder time penetrating the atmosphere and reaching the skin. Since this time of year is also much colder, people spend little time outside. These factors have led many to conclude that this combination of minimal sun exposure and scarce UVB rays, resulting in severe vitamin D deficiency, facilitates events like the “flu season” and other seasonal sickness patterns that seem to occur when human beings are exposed to the least amount of sunlight.
Because of the undeniable connection between vitamin D deficiency and serious illness, many doctors are now recommending vitamin D supplementation. However, there are two major forms of vitamin D Ã¢â‚¬” ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Which one is the best to use?