Originally, when vitamin D was found to be the missing ingredient in preventing rickets in growing children the recommended daily allowance (RDA) to prevent rickets was found to be 400 IU of vitamin D. The active metabolite has been identified as vitamin D3 for which the body has receptors on all vital organs (heart, brain, bones, kidneys, liver). In recent years new insights have been gained as it turns out that the RDA’s were set much too low for many diseases that can develop when vitamin D intake is too low, particularly in the aging population. Higher doses of vitamin D3 in the range of 800 to 1000 IU per day have been shown to prevent osteoporosis, falls and fractures in older adults and in nursing home populations. But the immune system of everybody is dependent on higher doses of vitamin D3. Recently (Dec. 12 to 15, 2013) I attended a lecture at the A4M conference in Las Vegas where Dr. Eisenstein reviewed the latest on vitamin D3. It is now known that 2/3 of the US population is deficient for vitamin D as measured by blood tests (less than 25 ng/ml). The standard test is the 25-hydroxy-vitamin D level (abbreviated as 25(OH)D level). It is now known that you require at least a level of more than 40 to 60 ng/ml of 25(OH)D as measured in the US, which translates to more than 100 to 150 nmol/L measured in metric units in other countries, to prevent cancer.
Metabolism of vitamin D3
90% of the vitamin D3 that we need comes from exposure to sunlight, which transforms a cholesterol metabolite (7-dehydrocholesterol) into the vitamin D precursor (vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol). This is what we absorb from naturally occurring fish oil and oily fish, but otherwise this does not naturally occur in foodstuffs (Ref. 1). Dr. Eisenstein pointed out that it is well known that people living north of the 37th degree latitude lack vitamin D3 because of a lack of sun exposure, particularly in the winter season. People south of the 37th degree latitude have enough sun exposure, but wherever you live, it is advisable to have your vitamin D3 level measured (as 25(OH)D level). If you do not eat enough fish or fish oil, the levels likely are too low as is the case for 2/3 of the US population. Vitamin D3 supplements will have to be taken by those whose levels are too low. Vitamin D3 is further metabolized by the liver and then by the kidneys into the active vitamin D compound, called 1,25(OH)2D3 (which is called “calcitriol”). The main effect of calcitriol is to absorb calcium and phosphate from the intestine into the blood stream. Together with vitamin K2 as explained in a prior blog these minerals are then taken up by the bone to prevent osteoporosis or rickets in the growing child. What has not been known for a long time is that vitamin D3 is also necessary for normal cell metabolism by most of your body cells, but particularly by the vital organs like the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the immune system and the bone. However, doses of 5000 IU to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 capsules per day are required for optimal vitamin D3 health. This will lead to levels of below 200 ng/ml of 25(OH)D levels, which have been proven to be safe. According to Dr. Eisenstein no toxicity has been found below 30,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, but based on other authors a dose of 10,000IU should be adequate for most people. Strangely enough colored people also have to take vitamin D3 supplements as their the higher melanin pigment in the skin filters out UV light so effectively that their 25(OH)D level can be low. Always err on the cautious side and have your vitamin D3 blood level taken.
Vitamin D3 has a characteristic stereotactic configuration (cis-triene structure), which allows it to bind free radicals and function as an antioxidant (Ref.2).
What are some of the clinical effects of vitamin D3?
1. Vitamin D3 has diverse effects on organs systems as Dr. Eisenstein summarized: vitamin D3 lifts depression and has been found to be of particular value for drug resistant depression. Take 5000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.
2. Muscle power increases with vitamin D3, particularly in those who work out regularly.
3. Many fertility clinics pay attention to vitamin D3 levels, as the higher the blood levels of vitamin D3 in a man, the faster this sperms move! And the more vitamin D3 she has on board, the better she ovulates. The end result is a higher pregnancy success rate when both partners take 5000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day
4. Also, if a woman takes vitamin D3 during her pregnancy, the first set of teeth in the offspring will have fewer cavities.
5. Brain development in autistic children is much improved with vitamin D3 in higher doses. This needs to be combined with detoxification methods and supervised by one of the DAN physicians.
6.Chronic pain typically improves when vitamin D3 deficiency, which almost always is present in patients with chronic pain, is treated with vitamin D3 supplementation.
7. To prevent flus and colds and other infectious diseases, take higher doses of vitamin D3. When you come down with a flu, it is safe to increase your daily vitamin D3 intake to 30,000 IU of vitamin D3 for a few days until your symptoms improve, then resume your maintenance dose of 5000 IU to 10,000 IU per day. This year’s dominant flu is the type A, subtype H1N1 – also known as the swine flu. Children should get 50% of the dose regimen detailed for adults when they develop a flu (for children: 15,000IU for three to five days , with tapering to a maintenance dose of 2500 to 5000 IU until blood levels of 25(OH)D are available). Here is a website of Dr. Cannell where he discusses dosages as well.
8. Asthmatic patients do better with vitamin D3 supplements requiring less maintenance anti-asthmatic medicine to keep them balanced with regard to their airways.
9. Chronic low vitamin D3 levels cause brain damage including Alzheimer’s disease. In this context it is important to know that the enzymatic conversion in the liver and kidneys slow down as we age requiring higher doses in older patients. This may have been the reason for the confusion about relatively low doses of 400 IU of vitamin D3 preventing rickets in children versus the need of vitamin D3 in middle aged and older patients where much higher doses are required as already explained.
10. High blood pressure is linked to vitamin D3 deficiency and it is better manageable with medication when vitamin D3 levels are normalized.
11. Live longer with vitamin D3. How is this possible, you might ask: the answer has been found in the telomeres, the shoelace like structures at the end of the DNA strand of each cell. Vitamin D3 lengthens the telomeres and promotes telomere repair; this is associated with a longer life span. Centenarians have longer telomeres. You can measure telomere length, but it is a pricey test, which is not for everyone, contrary to supplementation with vitamin D3 that should be taken by everyone!
12. As already indicated, vitamin D3 strengthens the immune system, but it also modulates the inflammatory response from muscle damage, so athletes can perform better. Patients with multiple sclerosis will improve as it slows down the inflammatory process. But other inflammatory diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer will respond favorably to higher doses of vitamin D3 (20,000 to 30,000 IU of vitamin D3 in these cases). This is information that has not yet percolated into mainstream medicine, but will do so in the next few years (or decades?).
13. Higher percentages of cardiovascular disease are found in patients who have lower than 15 ng/ml 25-Hydroxy- vitamin D3 levels in their blood meaning that vitamin D3 supplementation prevents heart disease (Ref.3).
What are toxic vitamin D levels?
What is known about the safety of vitamin D3, particularly the higher vitamin D3 doses? First, it is wise to have your 25(OH)D blood levels taken from time to time. If any of these levels exceed 200 ng/ml it would be prudent to reduce the vitamin D dose or stop supplementation for a while. Otherwise it has been difficult to establish a toxic range.
This website claims that 40,000 IU of vitamin D3 or more would lead to toxic levels where the blood calcium levels would be increased, which can be measured as hypercalcemia. However, another study done in 2007 showed in MS patients that took 40,000 IU per day and that led to a blood level of 400 ng/ml of 25(OH)D did not lead to increased calcium levels and did not lead to hypercalciuria (too much calcium in the urine). So, all of the papers that either indicated to the public that it would be unsafe or unnecessary to take vitamin D3 seem to have other agendas than communicating the truth. Had it been true that calcium would be released from the bones or calcium were absorbed too much from the gut, this would have caused calcification of the bones, soft tissues, heart and kidneys. Also, kidney stones would have developed. However, a low calcium diet combined with corticosteroid drugs usually leads to a full recovery within a month. Interesting that all of the dire predictions regarding toxic vitamin D3 levels did not materialize. Here is another website discussing vitamin D3 dosing.
I talked to a participant of the conference (who has a fellowship degree of the A4M) about what is really known about vitamin D3 toxicity. He told me that there has been an unintentional overdose where a compounding pharmacy made a mistake, so that a patient accidentally received a dosage of 500,000 Units of vitamin D3 per day for a full three months, before the mistake was uncovered. The patient felt sluggish, but did not have any other symptoms. He was told to stop the vitamin D3 compound. He had an uneventful recovery with no detrimental effects. At this point no overdose of vitamin D3 has been established.
Vitamin D3 is a vital supplement that has been shown to prevent not only rickets in children, but also depression, MS, infections and even many cancers (Ref. 4). As usual there will be many critiques that doubt the validity of the above statements. But I have found that all of these effects described above were confirmed in several sources of various medical information. Keep in mind that negative rumours have a tendency to linger on for years.
More information on vitamin D3 for prevention of osteoporosis and hardening of arteries: http://www.askdrray.com/calcium-vitamin-d3-and-vitamin-k2-needed-for-bone-health/
Vitamin D3 deficiency can cause pancreatic cancer: http://nethealthbook.com/news/insufficient-vitamin-d3-linked-to-pancreatic-cancer/
1. McPherson: Henry’s Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods, 22nd ed., © 2011 Saunders
2. Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America – Volume 38, Issue 1 (February 2012) , © 2012 W. B. Saunders Company
3. Wang TJ, Pencina MJ, Booth SL, et al: Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation 117. (4): 503-511.2008.
4. “Recognition and Management of Vitamin D Deficiency”: American Family Physician – Volume 80, Issue 8 (October 2009), © 2009 American Academy of Family Physicians
Last edited Nov. 7, 2014