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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014

News

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Vitamin D has a long list of benefits

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

By David Templeton

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

All these years, you thought it was just another vitamin.

Used to treat rickets nearly a century ago, vitamin D has seen its stock rise in recent years with waves of research suggesting it's an indispensable dietary dynamism whose daily dose delivers dramatic results.

D is becoming vitamin deity.

Actually it's not a vitamin. The fat-based seco-steroid hormone that skin produces with sun exposure has shown a long list of benefits.

The Vitamin D Council, a nonprofit organization in Atascadero, Calif., led by Dr. John J. Cannell, links about 65 diseases, conditions or health problems to a vitamin D deficiency.

Lack of vitamin D is a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancers including breast and prostate cancers, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune disease, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects and periodontal disease, the council states.

"In humans, vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth and maintenance of a healthy body, from birth until death," the council says on its Web site, www.vitamindcouncil.org.

It suggests 50 to 80 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D in the blood year round. Dr. Cannell said people who do not get regular daily sun exposure need 5,000 international units a day of vitamin D -- more than 12 times the current recommended 400 IU daily allowance. Those amounts can be achieved with a conservative regimen of sun exposure.

"The older the skin the less effective and efficient the skin is in making vitamin D," he said. "If you are 70, you have to stay out in the sun twice as long as someone who is 30 to produce the same amount of vitamin D."

He said people rightfully are jaded by claims of health benefits from vitamins. "Many do not turn out to be true, so they hear about vitamin D and they will not fall for it again," Dr. Cannell said.

But volumes of research are proving vitamin D's importance.

Natural production of vitamin D3 cholecalciferol in the skin "is the single most important fact every person should know about vitamin D -- a fact that has profound implications for the natural human condition," the Vitamin D Council states.

Lack of sunlight exposure and declining nutrition in the American diet has produced a vitamin D deficiency throughout the population.

Nowadays some nutritionists have bumped up the daily dose to 1,000 IU and, if Dr. Cannell's recommendations are any indication, significantly higher. An overdose of vitamin D can be toxic, even deadly. But Dr. Cannell said even 5,000 IUs a day are safe for days when the person receives no sun exposure.

Dr. Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, medical director of Allegheny General Hospital's Integrated Medicine Program, said the problem is the lack of food sources containing vitamin D. "There is some in fish and dietary sources, but the main source is sunshine," she said.

Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said a precursor chemical in the skin when exposed to sunshine changes into vitamin D, and "that's why it is known as the sunshine vitamin."

Twenty minutes of sunshine each day on the face, parts of the arms and chest should provide sufficient vitamin D.

"There are a whole bunch of studies that show that people who are low in vitamin D suffer from depression, skin cancer and heart problems, but there are not good studies that show whether the supplement can reverse those problems," Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said. "But people over 50 who took vitamin D seemed to have a lower mortality than those who didn't take it as a supplement."

 

To read more, visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette web site.
 

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