Imagine being able to:
- help build strong bones
- boost immune function
- promote heart health
And even help to maintain healthy blood pressure and blood glucose.
All with 1 nutrient.
Could it be possible?
Some emerging research is pointing to a yes.
And yet, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, almost 42% of adult Americans were clinically DEFICIENT in this nutrient—despite its importance!
What is this miracle nutrient?
It’s vitamin D.
Yup. It’s been around forever, but researchers are just now discovering the versatility of this old standby.
Why all the hoopla? Let’s take a look …
#1. It helps build and maintain strong, healthy bones.
Vitamin D helps promote calcium absorption from the small intestine. This is critical for the development of strong, healthy bones.
#2. It helps activate immune cells and bolster immunity.
Numerous population studies reveal that maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D in the body is associated with better immune health.
#3. It promotes normal, healthy cell growth and division.
Vitamin D works at the genetic level to promote normal, healthy cell growth and division. In fact, most cells and tissues in the body have membrane receptors that are activated by vitamin D to stimulate cell function.
#4. It promotes skeletal muscle health and performance.
Vitamin D exerts several effects in skeletal muscle, including stimulating muscle strength, function and performance. In 1 systematic review, researchers found optimal vitamin D status to be linked with greater muscle strength and muscle function in healthy adults.
#5. It may promote heart health and longevity, based on emerging research.
Results of 1 meta-analysis of 8 population studies in Europe and the U.S. with over 26,000 men and women indicate that an adequate level of 25(OH)D (the major circulating form of vitamin D in the blood) is associated with longevity and heart health.1
Another study of more than 5,400 adults followed for an average of 9 years reports similar benefits.2 While these preliminary findings are encouraging, more research is needed to confirm vitamin D’s role in heart health and longevity.
#6. It may help promote breast, colon and prostate health, based on emerging research.
Like many other tissues, tissues in these areas of the body have biochemical pathways activated by vitamin D that help control cellular growth, suggesting a role of vitamin D in promoting healthy cell function. Preliminary findings are intriguing, and I’m eager to see more research to confirm a precise role of vitamin D in breast, colon and prostate health.
Are you getting enough?
The body produces vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. That’s a bummer for most of us, with our indoor jobs and sun-wary lifestyles.
Between days spent in the office and cautious use of protective clothing and sunscreens, we’re not getting sufficient sunlight exposure to produce enough vitamin D.
That means a large number of us are not maintaining body stores in the healthy range.
Having a blood test – called a 25(OH)D blood test – is the only way to know if you’re getting enough.
The results are shown as a number in units of ng/ml.
For example, 50 ng/ml. While experts have yet to agree on the optimal blood level of 25(OH)D, there is compelling evidence that it should be at least 30–40 ng/ml.
Certain groups may be more susceptible to deficiencies.
- Mature adults. The body is less efficient at producing vitamin D as it ages.
- People with limited sun exposure. People who are indoors most days or who limit their exposure to the sun are unlikely to receive enough exposure to the sun to produce an optimal amount of vitamin D.
- People with dark skin. They have a greater amount of melanin, a skin pigment that decreases the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight.
- People who are overweight. Excess body fat is associated with lower serum levels of vitamin D. The extra amount of subcutaneous fat may trap the vitamin and alter its release into the circulation system.
- People who use sunscreen. Using a sunscreen helps protect against the harmful effects of sun exposure. However, some research suggests that sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) as low as 8 significantly decrease the body’s ability to make vitamin D.
- People taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs over an extended period of time. Many common drugs can deplete the body’s level of vitamin D, including the following:
- Questran®, LoCholest® and similar cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Xenical® and Alli® (weight-loss drugs)
- Prednisone and similar corticosteroids
Should you supplement?
One more super important fact: It’s really difficult to get an optimal intake of vitamin D from food alone. It’s found in foods like cod liver oil, certain fish and foods fortified with the vitamin. Not a whole lot can be found naturally.
For this reason, I recommend a vitamin D supplement as part of a sensible program for just about everyone.
As always, before you supplement, talk to your doctor, especially if you have a medical condition, if you are taking prescription drugs, or if you are pregnant or nursing. Together, you can decide the best supplement program to meet your individual health needs.
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Schöttker B, Jorde R, Peasey A, et al., Consortium on Health and Ageing: Network of Cohorts in Europe and the United States (CHANCES). Vitamin D and mortality: meta-analysis of individual participant data from a large consortium of cohort studies from Europe and the United States. BMJ. 2014;348:g3656. PMID: 24938302.
2. Schöttker B, Haug U, Schomburg L, et al. Strong associations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations with all-cause, cardiovascular, cancer, and respiratory disease mortality in a large cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(4):782-793. PMID: 23446902.