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What to Think About Vitamin D?

The recent news about vitamin D is confusing if you look to the news for insights about managing your health. Does it help prevent colds? What about more serious diseases? Health bulletins make good headlines, but they are often misleading and contradictory. It’s helpful to look at some specifics, and then remember to fall back on modeling our understanding of how health works based on how our healthy physiology works.

A New Zealand study recently published concluded that vitamin D supplementation does not reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections, when that supplementation occurs in monthly injections sufficient to raise the vitamin D level in the bloodstream from below normal to the mid normal range. 

A conflicting study came out this summer, however, showing that daily vitamin D supplements added to local milk for Mongolian children cut in half the risk of a respiratory infection.  Two big differences: daily supplementation and although supplemental, it was delivered in milk: a natural source of many vitamins, including vitamin A, the natural co-factor of vitamin D.

Meanwhile, the research about more serious conditions varies as widely, whether discussing cancer, multiple sclerosis, or influenza. The bulk of the research indicates that you are more likely able to avoid illness or reduce its severity if you have a healthy blood level of vitamin D. What isn’t clear is how to achieve that same benefit by a treatment that raises low vitamin D to healthy levels. Many treatments can raise the blood level – not all of them confer a health benefit.

Looking for the most efficient dosing method, some medical studies have relied on large doses administered infrequently, and these seem to show the least benefit. Studies where the dosing is more gradual – and I believe, food based – offer the most potential benefit. What would be best would be to have a healthy vitamin D level on your own, without requiring medical intervention.

How do some people have normal vitamin D levels? First, stop avoiding the sun, and learn how to obtain some safe sun exposure. Secondly, consider the foods that are naturally high in vitamin D: fish – especially cold water fish like herring, cod, mackerel, pasture-raised eggs, pasture-raised lard, and cod liver oil.

You might find this list of foods familiar, as foods recognized to improve health for a variety of health conditions. Fish consumption, and cod liver oil consumption, have long been associated with health. The pharmaceutical approach has been to come up with a medical version of fish oil capsules, but those are highly processed, and not consistent with the strategy of preferring supplements taken in harmony with human physiology. I continue to recommend fermented cod liver oil as a supplement and cold water fish from good sources. Ask your supplier if they have tested for radiation from Fukushima. The answer is YES for Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Vital Choice seafood.

If your vitamin D level is low (<40 ng/mL) despite regular exposure to the sun and fermented cod liver oil, I recommend supplementing on a daily basis with an easily absorbable form of vitamin D, taken at mealtime, in a meal containing some good animal fat. Vitamin D in liquid form should be taken on food rather than in dropped into a liquid, and capsules should be taken at meal-time.


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