Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vitamin D: What is it and where do you get it? (and why you should bother)

I read a post on another blog (a much better one, BTW) about cod liver oil supplements. I'm sure you've heard about this. It's the stuff your great grandmother was probably forcing down the throat of your grandma when she was a little kid. I think I recall the grandma or mother on Huckleberry Fin making him take it too.

Sounds gross. Smells gross. Tastes gross. So why take it? Well, back then they didn't realize what it was about cod liver oil (CLO) that was so beneficial but as it turned out, it is an excellent source of Vitamin D.

Current medical research has been finding that most of us are deficient in at least the few types of Vitamin D that they can test for. And that lack of vitamin D can affect not only our bones, but our muscle strength and immune system. GI (gut) function too. It is especially important in older adults. The research community has found that with adequate levels of vitamin D, our elders fall less and have less risk of fractures. This improves their quality of life as well as life expectancy. Did you know that if someone over the age of 65 falls and breaks their hip or another large bone, that their risk of dying in the following year goes up significantly? Vitamin D is one piece of the puzzle , but it is a significant one.

The newest form of vitamin D supplement that I have read about is fermented CLO. Doesn't that sound so much more appetizing? The makers, Green Pasture are claiming that it is more "bioavailable" and thus superior to regular CLO. Green Pasture is also the only company making this product in the US currently. Their belief is that fermenting is the traditional production method of CLO and based on the research of Weston A Price, the more traditional foods and methods of preparation, are the most nutritious and can provide a whole host of health benefits.

Recently, I have been doing some reading about Weston A Price and have been converting many of our food sources and preparation methods to more traditional, whole foods. I believe it is common sense that the manufactured foods of our modern times are simply artificial chemicals that are crafted into something that tastes good by means of toxic chemical that cause us to become addicted to these foods. No amount of synthetic vitamins or fiber will ever make these foods consumable. But, that has nothing to do with Vitamin D!

What I am concerned with is that once you begin your journey into whole foods, just how far do you go? What is reasonable and what is just ridiculous? I beleive that vitamin D supplementation is necessary for most of us who do not get enough sunlight and whose dietary sources may be lacking as well. Vitamin D production by the body will be maximized by getting 15-20 minutes of exposure to the sun (with arms and legs uncovered and without sunscreen) daily. Food sources of vitamin D include salt water fatty fish and pastured eggs. And then there are supplements such as CLO and synthetic vitamins.

Personally, I would always try the whole food source first. I know I don't get enough sun exposure and certainly won't at least until next summer. We do eat eggs from our hens who free range in the yard and should be producing eggs with high levels of vitamin D but I have no way of verifying this. We don't eat enough fish to get adequate levels either. So we're kind of left with supplements.

I've taken fish oil supplements before. Some of them have given me "fish burps" and others haven't. My chiropractor sells one that smells like vanilla and doesn't give the burps. I have no idea of the brand at the moment as I don't have any on hand to look at the bottle. I can find out, though if you're dying to know. I have not, however, specifically taken CLO. And honestly, it doesn't sound all that great. But knowing the benefits of vitamin D and that synthetic vitamins are not always assimilated the way that real food products are, I think I will be trying this.

Do I expect miracles? Nope. But if it can keep the winter blues away, help support my immune system through flu season, keep my nervous and muscular systems in tip top shape, then I'm all for it! Apparently there is also some talk of fertility benefits. You see, vitamin D is technically a hormone and it helps produce sex hormones. It is also fat soluble, meaning that it builds up in the body. Taking too much can be toxic. In comparison, vitamin C is water soluble and if you take too much, generally your kidneys filter it out and you get really pretty pee!

I think there needs to be a balance in what we recommend for supplementation. As a nurse practitioner dealing with the elderly, I have prescribed D3 supplements as these are assumed to be absorbed more efficiently by the body that other synthetic forms. Elderly patients tend to get less sunlight and have poorer diets. Many of them are on fixed incomes and cannot afford expensive supplements. If you do not have a diagnosed deficiency, then taking 400 - 1000 units daily is recommended. Higher amounts can be prescribed if needed for those with deficiencies. The issue of vitamin D deficiency is important enough the the Veteran's Administration tests all of it's patients regularly and it was probably the most common supplement I prescribed when I worked there! Testing is not cheap so this was quite significant to me.

There is a place for both. In the case of true deficiency (your health care provider can do a blood test), prescription strength supplements are necessary. If you are generally healthy and get some sun exposure as well as at least occasional dietary sources, I would stick with the recommended supplement strengths. More is not always better. And this is especially true of vitamin supplements. Food is your BEST source of all nutrients because of all of the unknown factors that help with absorption and assimilation. Supplements should be used when diet and sun exposure are not optimal. And if you can't stomach CLO or fermented CLO, then a synthetic vitamin D3 analog will be better than nothing.

Good luck! I may consider joining the polar bear club so I can get some winter sun exposure!

Have a healthy winter!

Lizabeth-your friendly neighborhood family nurse practitioner!

p.s.- the usual statement-always tell your health care provider about any supplements that you are taking or considering taking. They can interfere with other medications or conditions you may have. This is not intended as personal medical advice.

p.p.s. -no, I don't get any benefit from you clicking through to another site and purchasing products from them. I wish!


  1. Excellent info, Lizabeth! I bookmarked it!

    My hubby's doc actually did tell him to take some Vit D b/c of his Crohn's, so now he knows he actually has to take the FCLO, for real. Ha! ;) Katie

  2. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)


  3. Great info! My chiro sells the Fermented CLO at her office. I've been taking Nordic Naturals for years, and haven't yet tried the fermented stuff.
    Here in Washington State, we are discovering that the majority of the population here is severely deficient in Vit. D. Our lack of sunlight, and lack of traditional foods makes for a bad combination! Add to that the excessive amounts of coffee (to give us energy), and we are like the slugs so prevelent here - slowly sliding our way through our days.