Plus 7 more ways it can save your life, starting today
It’s not often that you can get a major health boost at zero cost. But in the summer you have limitless, no-cost access to one of the best supplements money can buy. All you need to do is open your front door, step outside, and reap the benefits.
I’m talking, of course, about vitamin D. The reason vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” is that the sun’s ultraviolet rays turn a chemical in the skin into vitamin D3. The vitamin D3 then travels to the liver and kidneys, where it’s transformed into the active vitamin D that your body can use.
If you’ve been reading Logical Health Alternatives (or my Reality Health Check e-letter) for awhile, you know how much value I place on vitamin D. In fact, it’s one of the supplements I talk about most.
And there’s good reason I bring up vitamin D as often as I do. Research has linked low levels of this essential nutrient to countless health conditions. And a new study points out one of the main reasons it’s so important to make sure you’re getting enough…
Vitamin D slashes heart disease risk
In a large meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers collected data from more than 180,000 people. They were looking to see if there’s an association between blood levels of vitamin D and cardiovascular disease events and deaths.
Cardiovascular disease events include stroke, heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and myocardial infarction.
Among the people studied, more than 9,000 died of cardiovascular disease during the study period. Another 13,000 had cardiovascular disease events.
By comparing the people who were struck by cardiovascular disease and those who weren’t, the researchers were able to determine that there was a strong association between vitamin D levels and heart risk.
In fact, for every 10 ng/mL increase in blood levels of vitamin D, risk of suffering a cardiovascular disease event dropped by 10 percent, and risk of cardiovascular disease death plummeted 12 percent.
How is vitamin D linked to heart disease?
The researchers note that the mechanism of action here isn’t entirely clear, but they have some ideas.
It could be the fact that vitamin D is anti-inflammatory. Or it could be the fact that vitamin D gets in the way of compounds that make plaque unstable, which helps prevent heart attack. Another possibility is that vitamin D has a positive effect on the smooth muscle cells in the vascular system.
Whatever the mechanism, one thing is clear: Getting enough of vitamin D is essential to optimal heart health.
Of course, the cardiovascular system isn’t the only part of the body that depends on this essential nutrient…
In fact, there’s almost no aspect of health that isn’t affected in some way by vitamin D. Which is why it’s been such a hot topic in the research community — and why I talk about it as much as I do. Here are just a few of the most recent studies on ways vitamin D is critical to your health…
Low levels send Alzheimer’s risk soaring
A brand new study out of France found that in people over the age of 65, low levels of vitamin D were associated with faster cognitive decline.2 And vitamin D deficiency increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease by three-fold.
The results were so convincing, the researchers concluded “maintaining adequate vitamin D status in older age could contribute to slow down cognitive decline and to delay or prevent the onset of dementia, especially [Alzheimer’s disease].”
Another huge meta-analysis of 47 different studies found that vitamin D not only helps stem the progression of multiple sclerosis, but also helps relieve some of the hallmark symptoms of the disease.3 Researchers noted that patients MS patients treated with vitamin D showed improvements in the brain lesions associated with the disease. Patients taking vitamin D also has improved walking ability.
And more recent research shows it can also dramatically boost your odds against another lethal condition…
Cut cancer risk by 67 percent
In fact, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine found that subjects vitamin D levels above 40 had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than those with lower levels.4
If any drug claimed results like this, you’d see it plastered all over the nightly news. But because it’s a simple vitamin, this breakthrough discovery barely made a blip in the media.
Now just imagine the protection they would get if their levels were truly optimal. (More on that in just a minute.)
So when I tell you that getting enough vitamin D can save your life, I mean it — literally. But just for good measure, here are some more recent findings to add to the pile:
- A new study published in the Journal of Endocrinology found that vitamin D helps treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease — a condition I’ve been waving the red flag about for years.
(Granted, this particular research was done in mice, so we still need human studies to confirm. But given the prevalence of this dangerous condition, and the safety of vitamin D, there’s certainly no reason NOT to add it to your supplement regimen.)5
- Another new study noted that vitamin D plays a role in the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle (called the circadian rhythm), and that vitamin D levels are inversely associated with pain. The researchers concluded that vitamin D “may have a therapeutic role, not only in sleep disorders but also in the prevention and treatment of chronic pain conditions.”6
- Speaking of pain, a recent study out of Finland found that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of chronic headache.7
- And another new study published a few months ago in the British Medical Journal shows that vitamin D acts as a sort of “natural antibiotic” against infections, as well as helping to prevent viruses like colds and the flu.
The researchers concluded “This major collaborative research effort has yielded the first definitive evidence that vitamin D really does protect against respiratory infections.”8
They always sound so surprised. But they really shouldn’t be. Not anymore. Considering all of these studies are just a sampling of hundreds — even thousands — that have come out over the past few years about the amazing benefits associated with this simple vitamin.
So let me say it again. Vitamin D really is that important.
And as I mentioned above, now is the perfect time of year to boost your levels even further by getting vitamin D from the original source.
How to get enough vitamin D without damaging your skin
I realize that advising you to soak up some rays runs contrary to all the anti-skin cancer advice you’ve ever been given.
And skin cancer concerns are real. The American Cancer Society placed the number of new melanoma cases last year at 76,000.
Luckily, we max out on daily vitamin D production in far less time than it takes to start to burn. So going out with as much skin exposed as you can for short periods of time should be sufficient. For light-skinned people (the ones who should be most concerned about skin cancer) it only takes about 15 minutes.
After that, you can cover up with protective clothing — long-sleeved swim shirts and wide-brimmed hats, for instance. And put on some sunscreen if you choose to, but look for one without toxins. The Environmental Working Group produces a great list of the least toxic sunscreens every year (you can find this year’s rankings at www.ewg.org).
Of course, a new study shows there’s a way to get even more “bang for your buck” when it comes to soaking up vitamin D from the sun…
Exercise adds an extra boost
Turns out, going for a jog, a hike, or a swim will help you maximize the heart health benefits of vitamin D.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 Americans. They wanted to see how exercise and vitamin D worked together to protect the cardiovascular system.9
They found that there’s a direct, positive relationship between levels of exercise and levels of vitamin D in the blood. While they weren’t looking at cause and effect, the findings do seem to suggest that exercise may increase vitamin D stores.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that inactivity is very common. As is vitamin D deficiency — even when they’re using a paltry 20 ng/ml as a benchmark, 30 percent of people were deficient. And that benchmark is far below the level I recommend.
As for exercise, people were classified as getting adequate exercise if they had 75 minutes or more of vigorous-intensity exercise per week or 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise.
In other words, they weren’t requiring people to be marathoners here. Just to get up and move once in a while. Not a tall order. But before I go off on a rant about exercise, let’s look at what the researchers found.
After analyzing data collected across a span of 19 years, the researchers found that the more people exercised, the higher their vitamin D levels were. In fact, those who got adequate exercise had a 31 percent reduced risk of vitamin D deficiency.
They also found that the most active people with the highest vitamin D levels had the most protection against cardiovascular disease. Those who got the minimum amount of recommended exercise and kept vitamin D levels above 20 ng/ml (which should be a breeze, if you’re trying) had 23 percent lower chance of having a cardiovascular disease event than the never-movers with vitamin D deficiency.
The most significant finding is that combining adequate vitamin D levels with enough exercise had a greater protective effect than either factor alone.
One important note: These findings applied only to whites, not African-Americans.
The researchers couldn’t say exactly why that was the case, but it could be because greater levels of melanin in the skin reduce the amount of vitamin D produced after sun exposure. But while African-Americans tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin D than whites, some evidence suggests they might not have the same risks as a result.
It’s an interesting area of research, and one I hope gets more attention in future studies.
Who should supplement, and what to look for if you do
Definitely take advantage of the “free” vitamin D from the sun while you can, but keep in mind it may not be enough to get you to optimal levels.
The best way to find out your vitamin D levels is to ask your doctor for a blood test. (If he or she won’t order one for some reason, you can order your own vitamin D testing kit through a company called Direct Labs.
Just visit their website at www.DirectLabs.com/OVH1. Or call 800-908-0000 and reference account code: R-OVH.) Once you’ve established your current vitamin D level, you should re-test every six weeks, until your levels are where they should be.
I mentioned earlier that I think the vitamin D levels most doctors and researchers consider “adequate” are abysmal. For disease prevention, you want to aim for closer to 80 ng/ml. You’re not likely to be at that level when you first get tested (you might not be anywhere near it), but if you keep on testing you’ll see if your vitamin D strategies are working for you.
Start with sun exposure, for sure. But it might be hard to get your fill without spending all day outside. To reach an optimal vitamin D level, I generally recommend 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 on a daily basis to my patients.
In summer you may be able to go lower — but only if your blood tests are showing that you’re getting enough through the additional sun exposure (and exercise!). If not, you absolutely must keep taking vitamin D supplements.
Oh, and for the best heart protection (and cancer protection, and brain health, and on and on…) be sure to take the D3 form. And then chase it with a healthy dose of exercise.
1“Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and the risk of cardiovascular disease: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Apr;105(4):810-819.
2 “Associations of lower vitamin D concentrations with cognitive decline and long-term risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.” Alzheimers Dement. 2017 May 9 [Epub ahead of print]
3 “Influence of Diet in Multiple Sclerosis: A Systematic Review.” Adv Nutr. 2017 May 15;8(3):463-472
4 “Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations ≥40 ng/ml Are Associated with >65% Lower Cancer Risk: Pooled Analysis of Randomized Trial and Prospective Cohort Study.”PLoS One. 2016 Apr 6;11(4):e0152441.
5 “Active form of vitamin D ameliorates non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by alleviating oxidative stress in a high-fat diet rat model.” Endocr J. 2017 May 23. doi: 10.1507/endocrj.EJ16-0542. [Epub ahead of print]
6 “The interfaces between vitamin D, sleep and pain.” J Endocrinol. 2017 May 23. pii: JOE-16-0514. doi: 10.1530/JOE-16-0514. [Epub ahead of print]
7 “Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with higher risk of frequent headache in middle-aged and older men.”Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 3;7:39697. doi: 10.1038/srep39697.
8 “Vitamin D protects against colds and flu, finds major global study.” ScienceDaily (www.sciencedaily.com), 2/16/17
9 “Physical Activity, Vitamin D, and Incident Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease in Whites and Blacks: The ARIC Study.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017;102(4):1227