Recently I ran across an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that looked at research on Vitamin D in the past decades to determine some of the characteristics of the substance, how it is handled/processed, what supplements do/don’t do, how it affects various types of cancer and so on. The article in itself was not extremely informative, however there were a few interesting points that I pulled out of it that I’d like to share. First of all, I’m not your doctor so please don’t take anything I say here as medical advice. Now that I have that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at what Vitamin D is and why you need it…naturally.
Vitamin D is a crucial fat-soluble substance in your body that is produced in your skin (which is, by the way, the largest organ in your body) during exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Your skin produces cholecalciferol, which is converted to calcitriol in your kidneys. This active form of Vitamin D plays a role in several key processes such as bone mineral metabolism, parathyroid function and some mental functions as well.
People who have insufficient amounts of endogenous Vitamin D production have been shown to have depression, weight gain, higher risks for breast and colon cancer, as well as other metabolic disorders, not to mention weak and ‘too-soft’ bones. Naturally, in our society of quick fixes, we’ve started supplementing milk and other foods with synthetic Vitamin D to make sure everyone gets enough. What is perplexing is that there is a huge and widely available source of the stuff that we’re orbiting around right now: the sun. The amount of Vitamin D produced in about 15 minutes of sun exposure is waaaaay more than your body will need for the day and it has been shown in studies that people who live in or near the equator have almost non-existent rates of breast and colon cancer, as well as mental disorders such as depression. And this is compared to their counterparts in the northern regions of the world where people rarely go outside in the sun during the colder months and slather on coat after coat of sunscreen in the summer. The point I’m trying to make here is this: sunscreen does you no good. The small risk of sunburn and subsequent skin cancer (which by the way you are more at risk for the more sunscreen you use) is far outweighed by the reduced risk of breast and colon cancer if you would just go walk outside and do something for 10-15 minutes a day, or even visit a tanning bed for 6-8 minutes once a week. And to further top that statement off, you’re actually at higher risk for melanoma, the potentially deadly form of skin cancer, if you are deficient in vitamin D.
Supplementing with Vitamin D oral supplements sounds like a great idea right? Take a pill and you’ll automatically get the benefit of this cancer-fighting vitamin, plus you don’t have to go out in the sun. Well…recent research by Dr. Hollick has shown that when your skin produces Vitamin D, it also produces up to 10 other photo-nutrients (research into these products of Vitamin D production is ongoing to determine exactly what role they play) that we are not fully sure exactly what they do. The theory currently is that it is these ph0to-nutrients that in fact are the cancer fighters, along with Vitamin D. And your body doesn’t make those photo-nutrients if you just take a Vitamin D supplement, only if you’re exposed to the sun, either natural or artificial.
The last interesting tidbit that I found was this: Vitamin D, being fat soluble, is stored to some extent in adipose tissue (fat cells). The more fat cells you have, the more Vitamin D will be stored in those cells and the less you will have circulating in your body for use, thereby making you more deficient. All the more reason to get rid of the excess body fat and start using this amazing vitamin as it was intended.