By Dr. Mercola
Vitamin D has some pretty extraordinary achievements under its proverbial belt, not the least of which is disease prevention. Skin exposed to the sun produces this "sunshine vitamin," which helps prevent osteoporosis and promotes strong bones and teeth.
It's known to be advantageous and even crucial in several areas of your body, as a deficiency has been implicated in such problems as macular degeneration, lupus, bowel diseases, multiple sclerosis and chronic heart failure.1
That's not all. Vitamin D is also tapped as possibly inhibiting infections and complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, and has been shown to improve "nonspecific chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain (CWP)," according to Health Day News.2
Recently, the benefits of vitamin D went even further with the emergence of new research revealing it to be powerful against breast and prostate cancers, and useful for treating deadly respiratory viruses, according to research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.3 Daily Mail reported:
"Elderly patients who had high doses of the 'sunshine vitamin' were 40 per cent less likely to develop lung infections. Pneumonia, bronchitis and influenza are known to have higher death rates among older people because of their weakened immune system.
But because they are viruses, antibiotics are often not prescribed due to them being ineffective. However, experts believe vitamin D helps to reinforce the first line of defense as people age to prevent acute respiratory infections."4
The Problem With Using Antibiotics Against Viruses
Scientists say taking vitamin D could help drastically reduce incidences of lung disease fatalities, especially those prevalent in older adults in nursing homes.
Professor Dr. Adit Ginde, lead study author at the University of Colorado, sees the link as a potential life-saving discovery. He acknowledges that doctors possess very little power to battle acute respiratory infections (ARIs), especially since most are viral, making antibiotics ineffective.
Worse, the high rate of doctors prescribing antibiotics for viral infections may be contributing to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. In fact, superbugs resistant to drugs are projected to cause 10 million fatalities by 2050, says Quartz.5
Vitamin D, however, may prevent such infections, including illnesses such as flu, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.
Vitamin D and Certain Cancers: Here It Comes to Save the Day
Among 107 nursing home residents with respiratory ailments (averaging age 84), 55 received high-dose vitamin D for a year, while the rest took lower amounts. Those in the first group had a 40 percent decrease in ARIs.6
According to Ginde, "Vitamin D can improve the immune system's ability to fight infections because it bolsters the first line of defense of the immune system."7 Another new study found that women with high levels of vitamin D are more apt to live after being diagnosed with breast cancer.8
Scientists reported that when women upped their D dosage, they were nearly one-third more likely to survive it, particularly for premenopausal women. The mechanism is its ability to stop the reproduction of cancer cells.
Researchers examined 1,666 women with breast cancer and found that the more 25-hydroxyvitamin D (250HD, a blood biomarker for vitamin D) they had, the better their chances of survival. Medical Daily added:
"While the results are exciting, the researchers emphasized that the study was not designed to establish causality, meaning that women with cancer should not be flocking to the beachside based on this research alone. However, extra vitamin D can't hurt, as it's been proven to be essential for bone health."9
Testing Vitamin D Levels May Help Prevent Aggressive Prostate Cancer
Another important review came out recently linking low levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer. Knowridge reported research from Northwestern Medicine disclosing that:
"Deficient vitamin D blood levels in men can predict aggressive prostate cancer identified at the time of surgery. The finding is important because it can offer guidance to men and their doctors who may be considering active surveillance, in which they monitor the cancer rather than remove the prostate."10
This is particularly true in men with dark skin, such as African-Americans, low sun exposure, and/or low vitamin D levels.
One of the crucial things to note is that low vitamin D levels were found via blood tests before any sign of prostate cancer showed up, so checking vitamin D levels beforehand could be life-saving, and a much better alternative to begin taking it a problem is discovered.
In fact, "All men should be replenishing their vitamin D to normal levels," said Dr. Adam Murphy, Ph.D., a urologist and assistant professor of urology at Northwestern University, whose research showed African-American men in regions with low sunlight are up to one-and-a-half times more likely to have vitamin D deficiency than Caucasian men.11
The study noted, "Adverse pathology was defined as the presence of primary Gleason 4 or any Gleason 5 disease." A low Gleason score reflects cancerous tissue as similar to normal, while high numbers is "very different from normal" and more likely to spread.
"It's very hard to have normal levels when you work in an office every day and because of our long winter," Murphy, a Chicago resident, said.
The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day,12 but he advises men in northern or colder regions of the country to get 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
However, even this is far lower than is likely necessary. As a general guideline, research by GrassrootsHealth suggests that adults need about 8,000 IUs per day to achieve a serum level of 40 ng/ml.
Inflammation Alleviated Via Vitamin D
Researchers investigated specific signaling events that vitamin D suppresses in order to inhibit inflammation. Research published in The Journal of Immunology called it the "inflammatory cascade;" low D levels, found in millions of people, incidentally failed to inhibit the cascade, while adequate levels did the job.
Currently, U.S. guidelines suggest that individuals maintain at least a 20 nanograms/milliliter blood serum level of vitamin D, but that has been under debate.
Lead author Elena Goleva, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, said higher levels would be better (to maximally benefit from vitamin D, you likely need a level of 40 to 60 ng/ml):
"Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases, such as asthma, arthritis and prostate cancer, who are vitamin D deficient, may benefit from vitamin D supplementation to get their serum vitamin D levels above 30 nanograms/milliliter.
It outlines a clear chain of cellular events, from the binding of DNA, through a specific signaling pathway, to the reduction of proteins known to trigger inflammation.
This newly identified DNA-binding site for the vitamin-D receptor, and the specific pathways inhibited by higher levels of vitamin D provide a plausible mechanism for many of the benefits that have been associated with vitamin D."13
Vitamin D Shown to Improve 'Chronic Widespread Pain'
Almost simultaneous to that investigation, recent research in Turkey, reported in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, goes even further with the report that chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, or CWP, is improved with vitamin D.14
Fibromyalgia sufferers and other patients with CWP were given 50,000 IU/week oral vitamin D3 for three months. Afterward, scientists found a marked increase in 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels and decreases in pain, fatigue upon awaking, lack of energy, tender points and depression.
Significantly, there were 30 fibromyalgia patients at the beginning of the study and only 20 at the end, and 85 percent of the total reported satisfaction with the treatment. The researchers concluded:
"Vitamin D replacement treatment in patients with nonspecific CWP has provided improvements in musculoskeletal symptoms, level of depression and quality of life of patients. Patients with CWP should be investigated for vitamin D deficiency."
How Much Vitamin D Supplementation Is Recommended, and Food Sources
You should strive to optimize your vitamin D levels via sun exposure, supplements and food, to maintain a healthy blood level of 40-60 ng/ml year round. The length of sun exposure and/or supplemental dose needed by each individual to achieve this optimized level varies. To find out your vitamin D levels, I recommend getting your blood tested regularly to ensure optimal overall health.
Sensible sun exposure (and delaying showering to maximize absorption) is the best way to access this amazing nutrient. While it's difficult to maintain optimal vitamin D levels from food sources, it is found in some foods, including: