Unless you’re living in a dark cave without sunlight and an undiagnosed situation of osteoporosis, you’ve heard of vitamin D and its importance for strong bones and teeth, and more recently, the potential impact on improving immunity. Of course, it’s best known as the vitamin to prevent rickets in children and the often bowed leg photos are from third world countries that have plenty of sunshine, so what’s up with that? There’s often a lag between what functional medicine doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors and nutritionists like me, who know a health concept and what the time that it takes to reach mainstream headlines for the rest of the world to know about. Vitamin D was one of them.
In the late ‘90s when I was studying nutrition, the importance of vitamin D was talked about in class but that was as far as it went. Rickets, as I said, was number one, but other health issues were talked about that weren’t heard of as you sat in your doctors office. Fast forward over 20 years and while most still don’t know that vitamin D3 (the most absorbable form of D) is called cholecalciferol, you likely have a bottle of pills or drops in your vitamin drawer.
Is vitamin D a vitamin or a hormone? That question is kind of like is it a bird or a plane in the opening tag line of Superman – does it really matter? Likely not. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun’s UVB rays hitting our skin (when it’s out, that is) and you’re scantily clothed for more skin to be exposed, and live at the right latitude all year around, and converts it to a usable form in the body. Anyone with pigment in their skin (with dark or black skin) are even more likely to be deficient because their skin filters out the sunlight. There is a lot of talk about the black population being more susceptible to COVID-19 and its nastiness. Could that have anything to do with vitamin D status? It’s worth more study.
Continuing research shows that D3 has best friends, or more accurately essential co-workers in K2, calcium and even another fat soluble friend, vitamin A. With vitamin D deficiency being ridiculously wide spread, and the test is a paid ask from your doctor, there are many people out there without enough and they don’t know it. With deficiency associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, is vitamin D like the pixie dust of supplements? And where does K2 come into all of this (because that’s the next buzzword in the vitamin realm)? I know you need to know more.
Today on EAT THIS with Lianne, a deep dive into Vitamin D3 and its partners in health.
Ok, there’s a lot to dig into with vitamin D, and as neither you or I have a week to talk and listen, I’m going to focus on what I have seen of late with clients and family and keep this as a light and useful science-ish lesson.
So many people have the vitamin D pills or drops at home but aren’t taking enough and don’t quite know why they need it and that has to change. Well, I think it does anyway. I’m going to run through some basics and reasons why you might not have enough, some reasons that you might know come from not enough D, who D3’s BFFs are and how to get them, the foods that you can get it from and what I recommend for my clients, family and friends.
What is vitamin D?
First, vitamin D (along with A, E and K) is a fat soluble vitamin. That means unlike the B vitamins and vitamin C that you take and pee out if you don’t need them, your body stores fat soluble vitamins in your cells and tissues. Take it one day and it goes in, take it two days and it goes in, forget the third, your body uses what it stored from the past two days and you’re not without just because you forgot. Take too much and that’s a problem, but truthfully the situation of vitamin D toxicity is very rare. Deficiency is more our issue. Another issue is: have you maxed out on D’s absorption? Given it all it needs to find what’s called the receptor sites or parking spots? Possibly not. More on that to come.
Did you know you can have a blood test to see your levels and confirm deficiency? It’s a specific ask and added to the usual blood panel. My youngest daughter recently had a test that showed she is low in vitamin D. I had to specifically ask for that test and pay for it, and I’m glad I did. This kid has broken many bones (she is super active), had numerous cavities and issues with her baby teeth and now is having mental health challenges. I need to do a genetic test on her to figure out what this is all about as we talked about the genetic component in episode 41 where we learned that some people don’t absorb it well from all forms. Anyway, she is deficient and is now taking 10,000iu per day. If it doesn’t improve with my TAKE THIS with Lianne Sunshine D3+K2 liposome spray, then genetic testing is next. A liposome spray is the closest thing to IV that we have, so if it’s not going in, then more digging is required.
What does vitamin D do for us?
A recent article that I read called out the link between the microbiome and absorption and activation of vitamin D. Basically that means that the healthier the bugs in your belly, the better the absorption of vitamin D – or that’s the hypothesis anyway. Does that mean take a probiotic if you’re not? Well I’d say a strong HELL YES, because I also know the impact of probiotics on mental health, immunity, digestion, vitamin absorption and overall health, so it’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.
The desirable range from your blood test is 50 to100 ng/mL which I find pretty broad, but if you’re under that, double or quadruple your dose for about a month and test again. The only way to know is to test. I have a friend who has taken 20,000iu per day for months and her blood test was WAY over. Two months later, without taking any, it’s coming down. She didn’t have any toxicity symptoms and is watching to see how quickly her body uses it. She also lives in California and is exposed to sunshine regularly without a hat, scarf, and full body covered in clothes in the winter time.
Vitamin D3 is needed to absorb calcium for your bones and teeth. This comes down to the parathyroid glands that work minute to minute to balance the calcium in the blood for pH balance in the body, by communicating with the kidneys, the gut and skeleton. When there is sufficient calcium in the diet and sufficient active Vitamin D, dietary calcium is absorbed and put to good use throughout the body. If calcium intake is insufficient, or vitamin D is low, the parathyroid glands will ‘borrow’ calcium from the skeleton in order to keep the blood calcium in the normal range. This is the ultimate pH balance dance and speaks more to an alkaline vs acid diet. A topic for another episode and show.
Research shows that a lack of vitamin D in your body can lead to hair loss. One role vitamin D plays is stimulating new and old hair follicles. When there isn’t enough vitamin D in your system, new hair growth can be stunted. Um, that one is for both men and women because it affects both.
Let’s move on to D3’s BFFs
K2 is the first to talk about here as these two really do have a perfect synergistic relationship.
Vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 ensure that calcium is absorbed and reaches your bones rather than landing in your arteries and causing a blockage like Friday night highway traffic heading out of the city to get to the cottage in the summertime. Here, K2 takes care of both bones and your heart. K2 on its own is known for regulating normal blood clotting, whilst D3 supports a healthy immune system and muscle function. I’m saying K2 because there is also a K1 that comes from green leafy vegetables, and K2 is mainly found in grass fed meat and dairy products. Oh and remember when I talked about the microbiome and good bugs in your belly? K2 is produced by lactic acid bacteria in the gut, so we can make it ourselves to some extent, but your gut has to have enough good bugs to do it. Together, K2 and D3 work hand in hand and really make the toxicity of D very low. In fact, the toxicity of vitamin D is almost all from D2, the least favourable form of vitamin D.
I read in the book Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox by Kate Rheaume-Bleue, naturopathic doctor, that wrinkles on the skin can be an indicator for osteoporosis, so in a roundabout way K2 can help osteoporosis and you to look younger. We could have found the fountain of youth! She actually said that data about what causes skin to sag shows that K2 plays a major role in maintaining a smooth supple complexion. If the vitamin K situation is of interest to you, I highly recommend her book because she does go into how K2 is not recyclable in the body as other fat soluble vitamins are, and how she believes that K2 should be deemed essential. Fascinating stuff.
Foods with vitamin D
Food sources of vitamin D2 are mushrooms and a LOT of them. Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but absorption is only going to happen if there’s fat. Fat soluble vitamins need fat present for them to move like the transit system that gets you to work in the morning. Speaking of fat, you’ll also find D3 in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and fish liver oils like Cod Liver Oil. Smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver.
When was the last time you ate liver? I think I was 14. No, actually, I bought some and grated it into spaghetti sauce for my kids a bunch of years ago. It actually tasted amazing. Straight up liver is not on any menu that I create. Memories of my mother cooking it to shoe leather perfection put me off for life.
Why are we so deficient?
Dosage recommendations from Health Canada are between 800-2000iu per day, and the higher level for osteoporosis being 4000iu. Now, knowing that the recommendation for vitamin C from Health Canada is 13mg for toddlers aged 1-3, 75mg for men and 60mg for women, that number will just keep people from getting scurvy. We aren’t talking about an optimum level here. To say it’s conservative is an understatement.
With that said, if you have dark skin (even olive skin), take more. If you live above or below the 40th parallel (that encompasses most of the US and all of Canada, by the way), take more. If you have mental health issues, osteoporosis, heart disease, weak teeth, hair loss or can’t lose that weight that you know should be coming off, take more. Check with a blood test too. Talk to your doctor or naturopath about how much. I’m not conservative with dosage anymore after seeing so many blood tests come back unchanged with even 5000iu per day. Along with that, the K2 can be around 120mg per 1000iu of vitamin D3.
We also have a global immune challenge going on right now, so guess what I’m going to say… take more. Don’t prove me wrong with toxicity here, but while most people I speak with are taking 1000-2000iu a day, what I’m seeing but don’t have a study to back it up is that it’s NOT enough to impact.
Research around vitamin D, as with so much these days, one day says YES we all need it, and here’s why. Then another study comes out and says, um no our data shows the opposite. An article caught my eye linking the gut and active form of vitamin D, so yet another layer to the story of vitamin D. I get the confusion. I hope with this episode and show, you’ve gained enough insight into vitamin D to set yourself up with a test or take more if you live anywhere in the northern hemisphere from October to April. We all need it and with the conversation around mental health, depression, cardiovascular health, immunity and healthy, strong bones, it was worth dedicating an episode to one nutrient.
Want to know more about my TAKE THIS with Lianne Sunshine D3+K2 supplement? Head to sproutright.com.
Want a deep dive into another topic, let me know there too! And in the meantime please remember to eat this, one mouthful at a time.