By Dr. Mercola
If there ever was a Top Nutrient competition, vitamin D just might nab the title. It affects your DNA through vitamin D receptors (VDRs) that bind to specific locations on the human genome.
So far, scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D status, and a robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is critical for optimal health and disease prevention.
Vitamin D Deficiency Is Prevalent in MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, neurodegenerative disease of the nerves in your brain and spinal column, caused through a demyelization process. It has long been considered a “hopeless” disease with few treatment options.
The typical prescription for MS focuses on highly toxic medications like prednisone and interferon. However, research over the past few years suggests MS may be improved using a number of natural methods—including vitamin D.
Most recently, a study3, 4 presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine5 (AANEM) shows that vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly prevalent both among those diagnosed with MS, and patients suffering other neuromuscular conditions.
Here, vitamin D deficiency was defined as a 25(OH)D3 level of 30ng/ml or less. Of patients diagnosed with a neuromuscular condition, 48 percent were deficient in vitamin D. Only 14 percent were above “normal,” which here constituted a vitamin D level of 40 ng/ml. According to one of the authors:
“While the connection between vitamin D deficiency and neurologic disease is likely complex and not yet fully understood, this study may prompt physicians to consider checking vitamin D levels in their patients with neurologic conditions and supplementing when necessary.”
Besides this one, about a dozen other studies6 have also noted a strong link between MS and vitamin D deficiency. For example, a number of studies have confirmed that your risk of MS increases the farther away you live from the equator, suggesting lack of sun exposure amplifies your risk.
I believe optimizing your vitamin D level is of great importance if you have MS, but it’s not the only factor. For additional treatment suggestions, please see my previous article discussing natural MS treatment guidelines.
Vitamin D Deficiency Raises Risk of Brain Dysfunction and Death Following Cardiac Arrest
Besides helping prevent chronic brain disorders such as dementia, vitamin D sufficiency may also help protect brain function should you have the misfortune of suffering cardiac arrest. As noted in a recent press release:7, 8
“Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of poor brain function after sudden cardiac arrest by seven-fold, according to research presented at Acute Cardiovascular Care 2014 by Dr Jin Wi from Korea. Vitamin D deficiency also led to a higher chance of dying after sudden cardiac arrest.
Dr Wi said: ‘In patients resuscitated after sudden cardiac arrest, recovery of neurological function is very important, as well as survival. Vitamin D deficiency has been reported to be related to the risk of having various cardiovascular diseases, including sudden cardiac arrest.
We investigated the association of vitamin D deficiency with neurologic outcome after sudden cardiac arrest, a topic on which there is no information so far...
Patients with vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have a poor neurological outcome or die after sudden cardiac arrest than those who were not deficient.
Nearly one-third of the patients who were deficient in vitamin D had died 6 months after their cardiac arrest, whereas all patients with sufficient vitamin D levels were still alive.’"
Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Asthma
In related news,9 asthma attacks have also been linked to insufficient vitamin D status. Low vitamin D levels were significantly associated with greater frequency and severity of attacks in asthmatics. According to lead author Dr. Ronit Confino-Cohen, a senior lecturer at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, Israel:
“I think that if a patient has had good treatment for asthma and is still not controlled, maybe he should be checked for his vitamin D levels before adding on more medications. Maybe supplementation would do the job.”
This isn’t the first time vitamin D deficiency has been linked to asthma attacks. Research published in 2010 also found that asthmatic children with low blood vitamin D levels may have a greater risk of suffering severe asthma attacks. According to this study, vitamin D insufficiency itself was linked to a 50 percent increase in the risk of severe asthma attacks.
At the end of 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled its recommended dose of vitamin D for infants, children and adolescents, raising it from 200 to 400 units per day.10, 11 But research12 published earlier that same year revealed children may need 10 times that amount in order to receive the health benefits that optimal vitamin D levels have to offer! Many mothers also are vitamin D deficient, which is another contributor to asthma. A 2007 study13 showed that poor diet and lack of vitamin D during pregnancy were the determining factors in whether their children suffered from asthma by the age of five.
Have You Checked Your Vitamin D Level Lately?
While the optimal level for general health lies between 50-70 ng/ml, when treating chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune and/or neurological diseases, your level should ideally be somewhere between 70-100 ng/ml, which is about double what is typically considered “normal.”
References for target ranges
It’s important to realize that vitamin D deficiency14 is common round the world, even in areas where you’d suspect most people would get plenty of sun exposure. One recent study15 done in India found that 69 percent of 37,000 people tested across the country were vitamin D deficient (at or below 20 ng/ml), and another 15 percent had insufficient levels (20-30 ng/ml). Men between the ages of 31-60, and women aged 16-30 were at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency.
The ideal method to optimize your vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure, or using a tanning bed. If neither is available, you can use an oral supplement of vitamin D3. GrassrootsHealth has a helpful chart showing the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. Many experts agree that 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight could be used as an estimate for your ideal dose.
If Taking a Vitamin D Supplement, Remember K2 and Magnesium Too
If you opt for a supplement, be sure to take vitamin D3—not synthetic D2—and take vitamin K2 and magnesium in conjunction with it. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so taking some form of healthy fat with it will also help optimize absorption. The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, and without sufficient amounts, calcium may build up in areas such as your arteries and soft tissues. This can cause calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries—a side effect previously thought to be caused by vitamin D toxicity. We now know that inappropriate calcification is actually due more to lack of K2 than simply too much vitamin D.
Magnesium is also important, both for the proper function of calcium, and for the activity of vitamin D as it converts vitamin D into its active form. Magnesium also activates enzyme activity that helps your body use the vitamin D. In fact, all enzymes that metabolize vitamin D require magnesium to work. As with vitamin D and K2, magnesium deficiency16 is also common, and if you’re lacking in magnesium and take supplemental calcium, you may exacerbate the situation.
Vitamin A, zinc, and boron are other important cofactors that interact with vitamin D, and indeed, zinc deficiency has also been identified as a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease. When taking supplements, it can be easy to create lopsided ratios, so getting these nutrients from an organic whole food diet and sensible sun exposure is generally your best bet. Dietary sources of magnesium include sea vegetables, such as kelp, dulse, and nori. Vegetables can also be a good source. As for supplements, magnesium citrate and magnesium threonate are among the best.