Vitamin D Deficiency/The New Epidemic

By Sandra Miller

Nutritional Therapist

Are You Getting Enough?

Okay, I want you to raise your hand if you could honestly say that you don’t want strong and feisty immune system. Now raise your hand if you have been tested for your vitamin D level. Lastly, are you getting enough? Has anyone raised a hand?

Vitamin D3 has been a hot topic for a few years now, and rightfully so. Our concern about getting adequate vitamin D has only been brought to our attention in about the past 10 years. Before that, little was really known about its importance. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, we are seeing a “Public health crisis of epidemic proportion based on simple pure ignorance and misinformation.” In his researched estimate about 85% of the population is vitamin D deficient.

There are some of us at an even greater risk than others. Vitamin D is quite unique because it can be obtained from a non-food source. Our skin can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight under certain conditions and with certain elements present. You see, some people can make vitamin D better than others. Those with darkly pigmented skin have less ability to make vitamin D, while in contrast, those with light skin make more. If you have dark skin, there is a fantastic chance that you are deficient. And if you live much north of Georgia, I would bet my life on it.


Locale Counts

From November to March, areas north of the 40-degree latitude do not get enough sunlight to provide the amount of photons needed to make with adequate vitamin D, according to Boston University Medical Center researcher Michael F. Holick in “Journal of Cellular Biochemistry.” My hometown of Boston as well as Chicago would be good examples. Aging also causes us to make less vitamin D as well. A 70 year old makes 25 % less vitamin D than they would at age 20.

If you ask the majority of medical doctors they generally will guide you to the RDA which is 600-800 IU’s daily for an adult and 400 IU daily for a child. In 2010, it was increased from 400 IU’s for an adult (as its importance became more widely studied and recognized.) The facts could no longer be ignored. Here’s the catch with vitamin D.

EVERYONE has different vitamin D needs and you cannot just take a guess how much to take. Also, it’s not about just getting out of a deficiency status. We should strive for optimal.

How Much is Enough

The general consensus is 50 -100 ng/ml. to be optimal. Some say 35 to 45. This lower end is what most of the lab blood testing parameters seem to be. Keep in mind that the answer varies depending on who you ask. Most labs will show that one is “in range” at 30 to 100 ng/ml. Levels of 30ng/ml might help your bones but has been shown ineffective for disease prevention in most studies. Unless you ask a Dermatologist, the best place to get your vitamin D is from the sun. No if’s and’s or but’s. That how nature intended for us to obtain this vital nutrient that is important for everything from immunity to disease prevention.

Deficiency Our New Normal?

Most of the country right now is in what is called a “Vitamin D Winter.” Those who live furthest from the equator are effected most by lack of adequate sunlight this time of year. What complicates things is that we can only get the right amount of vitamin D from sunlight at the time of day when your shadow is the shortest. This would be sometime around noon. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot just get what you need by sitting on a sunny park bench on your at lunch break. Not even here in Florida where we ARE nearer to the equator. It takes a specific number of photons of UVB exposure to begin the process.

According to Dr. Michael Holick, a leading authority on the subject:

The The skin can pick up approximately 20,000 IU’s from adequate sunlight exposure. Isn’t it interesting that the guidelines for us are a tens of thousands times LESS than what we would get from a typical exposure to noontime sun? Well, I guess that explains why most all of us are deficient doesn’t it?”

Check out this report by the ENDOCRINE SOCIETY  which claims that the values given for normal ranges are not adequate for our health.

Dr. Hollick also reports that a sunburn that causes skin to become slightly pink is equivalent to taking in about 20,000 of vitamin D. 15% more than what is recommended by our RDA. We know that his is an unsafe way to get vitamin D because sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer, a potentially deadly disease. UVB rays are the specific type that causes the skin to burn. Interestingly enough, it is the same UVB rays that PROTECT us from skin cancer. The key is to get out of the sun just as the skin begin to pink up but before the burn.

When we roamed the earth in loincloths we got much, much vitamin D than our guidelines say is adequate. What this means is: Follow the guidelines of 600 to 800 IU’s, and you are sure to be deficient. Our 40 hour indoor work week has depleted our life force. Even if you use a “safe tanning” bed, did you know that if you wash your skin with soap after sunbathing, you literally “wash away” the vitamin D.

Dr. Mercola says that his research has turned up this:

” In order for your body to absorb vitamin D from the skin, you must not wash your skin with soap for approximately 48 hours!”

Much longer than we once believed. So, unfortunately, it’s pretty clear that we need several things to happen if we are to absorb our vitamin D from the sun. He claims that water alone will not wash the Vitamin D away and that rinsing important areas poses no issue.

Whew! My husband would have to be pretty understanding if I chose not to shower for 2 days. But much caution is needed when supplementing. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is not excreted in urine quickly like some other vitamins. Vitamin D in fact, is not just a vitamin. It is a pro-hormone. A pro-hormone that is responsible for over 2000 genetic responses. It’s pretty clear to see that if our DNA is compromised due to lack of sufficient vitamin D, we are at great risk of turning on the genes that cause the disease process.

Watch Dr. Mercola’s Video for all the details

Dr. Mercola on Vitamin D Benefits and Sources

It Starts With Testing

So where do you start? Supplementing with vitamin D requires testing beforehand. The test is called serum 25(OH) D3, a test that measures concentrations of circulating D3. Vitamin D is measured in ng/dl. In other countries outside the us it is measured differently. And this really got my attention. According to Dr. Mercola, “there has been a major controversy with regard to the way some labs interpret the test.” Quest labs admittedly claimed challenges with its methodology. Read more here:   NY Times reports QUEST MAKES ERRORS

Once the initial test results are in, each person may have unique dosing needs as to how to get to the optimal state. The reason for this, claims Mercola, is that there is a “600% difference in absorption amongst people and testing frequently is a must. Obese individuals will need more. Can you begin to see that when it comes to walking the road to optimal, finding a way to get sun exposure is so critical.  Our collective deficiencies to not come from lack of vitamin D pills. They come from lack of sunlight.

A Critical Nutrient

Along with the minerals selenium and magnesium, Vitamin D would be included in “Hall of fame for deficient nutrients in the American diet” if there were such a thing. Vitamin D is free and limitless unless the sun burns out and goes dark. Those in tropical climates even suffer with severe deficiencies. I guess that leaves the majority of us to fill our needs with supplementation most of the year.

According to The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005 to 2006 analyzed data for vitamin D levels in adult participants. “Vitamin D deficiency was defined as less than or equal to 20 ng/ml. This is considered low. The overall prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency was 41.6%, with the highest rate seen in blacks (82.1%). There is has been no clear established pattern of symptoms. In fact many people remain un-symptomatic despite very low levels. Those who take charge of their health do not wait for symptoms. So what does a bio hacker do? WE TEST.

Am I Deficient?

The test for adequate vitamin D is called 25-OH D3. This test checks for circulating vitamin D and it covered by the majority of insurance carriers. READ MORE HERE: Quest DIagnostics Education.

 Now even though symptoms are not always present, I wanted to share those that are commonly seen in deficiency. You could experience others.

  • Fatigue
  • General muscle pain and weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression

Don’t Forget Bone Health!

Remember, vitamin D is also responsible for bone and joint health. It makes sense that we would FEEL the deficiency in our bones or muscles. Vitamin D is so very important that we should be checking our children for deficiency. Studies show that when girls at the age of 10 are checked for their vitamin D status and optimized, not only does their risk of osteoporosis reduce, but it can head of type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. You may hear two sides to the vitamin D story.

Dermatologists create a call to alarm and threaten us that we will all die horrible deaths from skin cancer if we don’t use sunscreen. What they don’t tell you is the very sunscreen you put on to prevent skin cancer, is actually causing it. Problem is, we NEED the sun to help us make vitamin D. Remember that the most important rays of the spectrum for making vitamin D are the UVB rays. Most sunscreen products are very proud to tell you that they block UVB rays.  I wrote an article called “Beware of the Sun Screen” you may find interesting.

If you read my article you will learn the difference between what UVA and UVB actually do. More importantly, you will learn to pick a safe, non-toxic sunscreen so that you don’t fall into the skin cancer trap. My information is also backed up in the following article Truth is, you are likely more at risk for skin cancer using most sunscreens than you would be without them. Let’s look at the real concern. We are so much more likely to suffer many diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancers, diabetes, dementia and cognitive disorders and death from lack of this precious vitamin (hormone).

Diabetes Helper?

According to Jolie Root, A nutritionist and health advocate “Having healthy Vitamin D status in our daughters in adolescence dramatically lowered risk of osteoporosis (around age 10). Without adequate vitamin D levels, 1 out of 3 will become a type two diabetic. (Metabolic syndrome). Vitamin D has ties to insulin secretion. Low vitamin D also nudges one toward insulin resistance.” Could vitamin D help protect against diabetes? From an immune perspective, Vitamin D guards against inappropriate T cell formation, and has been show to lower C-reactive protein, a marker of the inflammatory response. Calcitriol, the hormone form of vitamin D was shown to decrease disease activity in animals.

Vitamin D appears to enhance immune function also by speeding up the removal of dead and diseased cells.

D3 in its active form is called hydroxyl-vitamin D. So the sun’s rays (UVB) hit our skin. (Without sunscreen of course) The rays act upon cholesterol converting it to a pro-hormone. This pro-hormone then absorbs the UV rays and converts into cholecalciferol or pre-vitamin D. Cholecalciferol makes a trip to the liver to be metabolized into hydroxyvitamin D. It is hydroxyvitamin D that gets measured in the blood.

Cholecalciferol is the form that is most desirable when you are looking at a supplement. This is because if you look at the explanation above, you will see that it is the ACTIVE FORM of vitamin D3. This form has the longest half-life. About 60 days. Know that levels fall rapidly when the form in use is ergocalciferol.

Fortified foods and some supplements have D2 (ergocalciferol) which is the plant based version and most supplements contain a synthetic version of this. Just for the record, you are not going to get your vitamin D in a glass of orange juice. Most all foods fortified with vitamin D use the synthetic version. Vitamin D is most famous for its role in calcium metabolism. Muscle weakness, loss of bone and also, muscle weakness can occur in those who are deficient.

Vitamin D can also play a role in:

  • Immune function
  • Reduced rates and risks of cancer
  • Supports health heart and blood pressure
  • Supports mood and cognitive function
  • Supports bone and muscle strength
  • Deficiency linked to diabetes risk

Quality foods can provide some vitamin D but one should not count on these sources alone. Here are some sources in the diet. Remember however that most seafood’s also contain fairly high levels of mercury. Be realistic when adding them to your diet or eat foods that are natural chelators of heavy metals along with your seafood. (Chlorella is a great bio hack!)

Cod Liver Oil


Atlantic Herring

Mollusks, Oysters

Steelhead trout


Beef liver/calves liver

Egg yolk

Cheese (dairy)

Tuna has a good amount but I would not encourage eating tuna due to higher mercury levels and for the simple fact that tuna comes in a can lined with BPA. Not worth the risk. There are no truly effective vegan options. Soy does contain some but poses it’s own health challenges. Next time you visit the doctor ask him if he has tested you for Vitamin D and if not, ask for the test. Know your numbers and reduce your risk.