Vitamin D. To supplement or not and how much do we need?

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This short video rapidly sums up many of the benefits of good levels of vitamin D3, but oddly it misses out how critical it is for the uptake of calcium and therefore strengthening bones.  It really is a vital nutrient for our good health, being present and very busy in every cell in our body.  It is hard to get enough D3 in our everyday lives.  Dietary sources such as milk, are poor.  To get enough from the sun we need up to 1 hour in the middle of the day, wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, at the latitude of Lisbon – and that is 1 hour every day.  Here in the UK the sun simply isn’t strong enough; in the summer it is rather lovely to actually see the sun for a whole hour in the middle of the day.  We really need to declare a national holiday when it does creep out from the usual cloud cover so we can all rush out and get a dose of Vitamin D.  Between October and March, the angle of the sun is too obtuse for us to make any D, even if we are out all day long in a swimsuit.

Since it is difficult to get sufficient D from the sun or food, we come to the vexed question of supplementation.  First, the only type of D the body can uptake is D3.  D2, the synthetic form, is just a waste of money since the body does not recognise it and it just passes right on through.  Then there is the question of how much to take.  At the end of January, on Radio 4, I heard an interview with a British paediatric doctor  who was talking about how, when living in Montreal, his wife had just had a baby boy.1  She felt dreadful, went to the doctor who gave her some blood tests and said she had virtually no vitamin D in her body.  This doctor then examined his son and saw he had the first signs of developing rickets, caused by catastrophically low D levels.  The interviewer then asked him how much D should we all take?  After a pregnant pause, he said that countries varied widely as to their recommendations, but here in the UK we take a conservative approach and recommend 200-300 IUs a day.  However, some countries recommended as much as 2000 IUs a day.  The problem is that the recommended daily dose (RDA) is based upon preventing death.  So if we get less than this, we die.  If we get just a bit more we live.  But what is the quality of our life?  Minimal supplementation will still leave us prone to the conditions mentioned in the above video.  It will not help us be in the pink.  To be cynical, taking the RDA will keep us alive and on pharmaceuticals to eke our existence out to the maximum amount of its dreary length.

If there is a bit of time, here is a youtube clip of Dr Reinhold Veith, one of the leading experts on Vitamin D.  He likens the need for vitamin D in the body like an office needs paper.  If paper is in short supply due to budget cuts, for example, memos don’t get sent and the office does not work as efficiently.  He also points out that 15 mins in the midday sun gives us 10,000 IUs of vitamin D, yet we in the UK are told to only take 300 IUs a day or we are in danger of over dosing.  Ridiculous.  The clip is 8 mins long and well worth watching.

  1. Unfortunately I was driving at the time and cannot remember the name of the doctor.  I tried the i-player, but the programme was not on it. []

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