Nutrition and Vitamin D (Vitamin D part II)

Last month we explored how we are affected by sunlight, and it’s affects on our hormonal systems which control and regulate all the systems in our bodies. Also we looked at how vitamin D is produced via sunlight in our bodies and how important this vitamin/hormone is to our health. This month we’ll take a look at how we can increase this essential nutrient through our diet. I won’t repeat the chemistry of how our bodies produce vitamin D in this article as it was covered in last months article. Click here to read the archive.

As discussed in last months article we need to obtain as much vitamin D as possible from as many Natural sources as possible to keep our stores up, especially during the winter months. This is especially true if you live in the pacific northwest (where less UV rays reach the earths surface), are over 50 (when vitamin D production drops), or have darker skin (less UV penetration through the skin.

First don’t be afraid of taking in too much vitamin D and causing toxicity. According to leading vitamin D expert Sarfraz Zaidi, MD it’s impossible to develop vitamin D toxicity from the sun as the skin will degrade any excess vitamin D formed there. Further in his 10 years of treating and testing for vitamin D deficiency he has yet to find a single case of serious vitamin D toxicity in his patients while they are on vitamin D2 or D3 supplementation! This is also true and in line with many other experts in the field of vitamin D. When medical writers of newspapers and magazines talk of vitamin D toxicity they often make a blanket statement about vitamin D supplements which is a mistake. Because of the widespread epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, and the deficiency which occurs in patients who have kidney failure and are on dialysis, or have had their parathyroid glands removed, allopathic medicine has developed a synthetic form of vitamin D- Calcitrol aka Rocaltrol. This is a drug rather than a supplement and is much more powerful than vitamin D2 or D3 and if not monitored closely can cause vitamin D toxicity- thus the “toxicity” scare in the media.

So how much vitamin D should I be taking in?

Unless you have a job or life which allows you to be outside for a majority of the day I would highly recommend that you take some sort of vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D is measured in I.U.’s (international units). In pharmacology, the International Unit is a unit of measurement for the amount of a substance, based on biological activity or effect. Currently the recommended daily dose by the powers that be is 200-600 I.U. a day. This number was decided upon at the turn of the century during an epidemic of rickets caused by the industrialization of our culture where people were spending more time indoors (as factory or office workers) and from the radical shift in a nutrient poor diet also brought on by industrialization as well. So you may take a multivitamin that claims to meet 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in vitamin D however if you actually got your vitamin D levels checked via your MD or health practitioner you might find that you fall into the estimated 70-90% of Americans who are deficient in this nutrient (most of whom don’t even know it).

In an article published in the July 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the authors concluded that for most people the optimal level of vitamin D cannot be obtained by current recommended daily doses. In March 2007 a number of researchers published an editorial urging that the recommended daily dosage be raised to 1700 I.U. a day to meet sufficient requirements. Keep in mind not all supplements are created equal and it’s vitally important to take supplementation from a researched, trusted, and bioavailable (made of ingredients your body can actually absorb and metabolize) product or you may just be wasting your money. Personally I take anywhere from 1000-2000 I.U. daily in a high quality and fully bioavailable fish oil supplement. This in addition to the foods I eat which contain some vitamin D already and being conscious of spending as much time as possible outside to absorb UV rays (without eyeglasses or sunglasses, and un-obstructed by glass i.e windows and car windshields). Therapeutic doses of vitamin D can range anywhere from 6000 to 50,000 I.U. and should be calculated by your health practitioner to be safe. (the 50,000 I.U. range is usually only for extreme medical conditions as mentioned earlier).

Although the experts claim diet is not a major source of vitamin D I feel it is essential to supplement and include foods that naturally contain vitamin D to keep your levels up as few of us are able to obtain sufficient amounts from sunlight alone. The body can store surplus vitamin D for up to 2 weeks in an ideal situation. Another speculation of note is that some researchers claim that sunlight is needed to metabolize dietary vitamin D.

To give you an idea of the amount of D that some foods are supposed to contain here’s a list of foods commonly indicated to contain Vitamin D.

Salmon, cooked (3.5oz) 360 I.U.

Mackerel, cooked (3.5oz) 345 I.U.

Canned Tuna (3oz) 200 I.U.

Sardines canned in oil, drained (1.75oz) 250 I.U.

Fortified Milk, one cup (8oz) 100 I.U.

Fortified Orange Juice, one cup (8oz) 100 I.U.

Fortified Cereal 40-80 I.U.

Egg, 1 whole (Vitamin D is in the yolk) 20 I.U.

Liver or Beef, cooked (3.5oz) 15 I.U.

Something to consider! Don’t rely on the stated quantities of vitamin D on food labels. In one study researchers found that D in fortified milk was less than 80% the stated amount.

In addition vitamin D content of fish is highly variable. Most people who are conscious of vitamin D intake ingest cod liver oil on a daily basis which is great as it contains EFA’s and is high in anti- inflammatory omega 3’s; but as a supplement to assist in calcium/mineral absorption and metabolizing you may want to look at the label more closely. Your body needs adequate levels of D for mineral absorption and in order to keep your D levels up there needs to be a balanced ratio between vitamin A and D in your intake. For every vitamin D receptor in the body there are 2 for vitamin A in every cell. An excess of one can cause a deficiency in the other. For example one brand of fish oil lists 650-1000 I.U. of A and a mere 20 I.U. of D on the label in an un-concentrated formula. The amount of D should be somewhere around 1000 I.U. to balance out the vitamin A quantity. Usually you’ll need to find a concentrated formula of cod liver oil which keeps these ratios in check for your supplementation to be effective.

Our ancestors weren’t subjected to the environment and food supplies depleted in nutrients that we have today in our lives. Which is why we need supplements unlike they did. So get outside as often as possible eat foods high in Vitamin D (and A) and make sure you have a high quality supplement so you can thrive not just survive.

If you want help or recommendations obtaining quality supplements send us an email at or ask us about it at your next class or session.

Stay Well-

Shawn Kinsella LMT, CA, PYT


Sources for this article:

Power of Vitamin D By Sarfraz Zaidi, MD

Primal Mind Primal Body by Nora Gedgaudas CNS, CNT