There is a lot of research going on with vitamin D. Vitamin D use is associated with significant reductions in the risk of a number of cancers, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disease. Vitamin D has been shown to be a biologically important compound binding at over 2,000 sites on DNA and influencing over 200 different genes. Despite this information, there has been little research directly showing that specific levels of vitamin D affect disease and mortality. A recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that better serum levels of vitamin D were directly linked to better health and survival.
Vitamin D is a hormone that begins in the skin with light and cholesterol and is further processed into active vitamin D by the liver and kidney. It is not commonly found in foods and, in Chicago, the sun is inadequate to generate enough vitamin D throughout the year.
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The commonly held idea of vitamin D is keeping bones strong. It stimulates calcium absorption from foods and encourages the cells that make bone, osteoblasts, to use the calcium to make bone. It is common knowledge that vitamin D prevents rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Vitamin D, through its binding to DNA affects cell growth, nerve and muscle function, stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. It also helps to regulate cell division, differentiation and even has a role in cell death.
There really is no recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Some people need a lot, some just a little. The best way to evaluate vitamin D status is to measure the serum concentration of vitamin D. One of the failings of medical studies is that serum vitamin D is rarely measured. It makes it difficult to interpret results of studies, both positive and negative, unless you know the blood level of vitamin D in each participant.
A recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology did it right. They followed the serum levels of vitamin D in 10,899 participants for over five years and correlated the vitamin D levels to the development of several illnesses and death. Interestingly, a whopping 70 percent of the participants were consistently vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency was directly associated with hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and type II diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiencies, over the five years, also were strongly correlated with death from any cause. These data indicated that supplementation with vitamin D conferred a considerably positive impact on health, survival and probably would lower medical costs.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if a drug was discovered that prevented disease, promoted wellness, increased survival, was inexpensive, lowered medical costs, was universally available and almost nontoxic?
Well, it may be that this new wonder "drug" does not come from a pharmaceutical company … it comes from the combination of sun, cholesterol, skin, liver and kidney … vitamin D.
• Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. His website is alt-med.org.