Will ‘D’ Be the New ‘C’?

By May 31, 2015 November 11th, 2016 Lifestyle & Stress
Vitamin D

Because of its naturally occurring broad-spectrum anti-infective activity, the sunshine vitamin may do much more than prevent colds and flu.

Trends in nutritional remedies, like those in traditional medicine, come and go. We tend to think ineffective products fade away fast, but that’s often not the case.

Consider vitamin C

Consumers, including those who are naturally-oriented, have been gobbling down synthetic vitamin C for decades, mostly because they believe it will prevent or remedy the common cold, flu and other infections. However, this notion that dietary supplements of vitamin C can do anything for colds has never been demonstrated in scientific studies.

In fact, a recently published review of 72 studies found no significant effect of consuming vitamin C supplementation on the incidence of colds. This is amazing when considering that almost all vitamin C is manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, which spend billions trying to get products to look good scientifically.

Despite this lack of science, the ongoing campaign of selling vitamin C pills is a raving success. Today, annual U.S. sales exceed $220 million, often continuing double-digit growth despite what industry experts say is little genuine innovation of the basic product. And this does not even include multivitamins, powders, drinks and many other products containing vitamin C.

All scientists and clinicians agree, however, that natural vitamin C found in vegetables and fruits is vital for many aspects of health, including improving immune function, which, in turn, can help prevent colds and other infections.

The Cost of Colds

The common cold has a serious economic impact throughout the world. Each year in the U.S., for example, colds lead to 100 million physician visits costing about $8 billion, most being unnecessary, with another $3 billion spent on over-the-counter drugs and $400 million on prescription medicines, none of which treats the cause or prevents cold and only offer symptomatic relief. More than one-third of people who saw a doctor received an antibiotic prescription, which increases the risk for antibiotic resistance. An estimated 200 million school days are missed annually due to colds. Add this to the 300 million workdays missed due to colds, and the total economic impact of cold-related work loss exceeds $20 billion per year.

So when will the “vitamin C for colds” trend cease to exist, and what will take its place? Hopefully very soon, as synthetic vitamin C also comes with the potential of significant health risks. More importantly, there is one nutrient poised to take its place because it’s actually effective, truly natural, and free.

The “Sunshine Vitamin”

Enter the sun and cholecalciferol, commonly but mistakenly referred to as vitamin D. It’s not really a vitamin, but a complex hormone-like chemical produced by the body through sun exposure. The old notion that vitamin D is important for strong bones still holds true, but this does not come close to its powerful impact on health and fitness. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is implicated in most of the diseases of civilization. These include cancer (including skin cancer), heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, autism, and, because vitamin D has such a positive effect on the immune system, infections like the common cold and flu.

Because vitamin D targets more than 200 human genes throughout the body, its actions go far beyond what was once thought. One of these genes regulates a compound called cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic that is critical for immune defense. This appears to be the reason that low levels of vitamin D are associated with upper respiratory and intestinal infections, influenza, pneumonia, ear infections, Clostridium infections, urinary tract infections, hepatitis B and C, HIV infections, and others. Researchers are now exploring the potential anti-infective aspects of vitamin D, including protection against viruses and other non-bacterial infections.

Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory actions.

Scientists also propose that vitamin D plays a key role in preventing metabolic syndrome and overfat conditions including obesity. Normally, reduction in vitamin D is the stimulus for the northern hemisphere’s winter hibernation response in people, which consists of an accumulation of fat mass and the induction of a slower winter metabolism — a feature of the metabolic syndrome when it occurs year-round. Those with low D may literally be stuck in a slow metabolic state. And it may be possible to reverse this pattern by improving vitamin D status, which would involve obtaining more than adequate levels of D from the sun from spring through fall.

Here Comes the Sun

The best way to obtain healthy levels of vitamin D is from safe sun exposure. Those with low blood levels usually need the addition of a supplement. Cod liver oil, a source of vitamin D3, is much better absorbed than plant sources (vitamin D2).

The best way to know if you are getting enough vitamin D is to monitor it through a simple blood test available through your doctor.

Common doses of vitamin D in supplements may not correct very low blood levels. Those with a deficiency may require more aggressive treatment along with sun exposure. Such treatment may include injections containing 100,000 or more IUs, which should be assessed by your healthcare professional while monitoring blood levels.

While vitamin D supplements can be toxic in high doses, no such toxicity occurs with regular sun exposure even when large amounts of vitamin D are formed.

The old idea was that, when you feel a cold coming on grab the vitamin C. Instead, getting more vitamin D from healthy sun exposure could prevent that infection from becoming a cold — not to mention the many other health advantages, including disease prevention, performance benefits for athletes and better brain function.

Be sure to maintain a healthy level of D throughout the year by monitoring your levels and taking measures to obtain adequate safe sun exposure, and proper supplemental therapy if necessary.

10 Comments

  • Hi Ivan says:

    Is cod liver oil more effective than the vitamin d3 supplement pills? The pills are a lot higher in IU but obviously they are synthetic.

    • It depends. You shouldn’t need an exorbitant UI, so cod liver oil should be just fine in most cases.

      • James says:

        Thanks. How much IU do you think someone living in Northern Europe would need if they work indoors 5 days a week and there is only 4/5 months of the year when there is enough sunshine to make any vitamin D ?

        • James:

          It depends on skin tone, although I suspect that most people wouldn’t be able to get near the necessary amount of Vitamin D. You’re better off getting it from food or supplements.

          • James says:

            Thanks, I’m pretty pale. Always avoided mid day sun and used lots of sunscreen, think I might have been deficient for a long time going to make an effort over spring/summer to spend more unprotected time in the sun and continue supplementation.

  • Krzysztof says:

    Thank you again for a great article!
    I live in Ireland, where I think there is not enough sunshine to obtain adequate levels of vitamin D. I take every day one pill of cod liver oil 400iu. Recently the weather in here is very bad and it is almost impossible to see the sun for weeks. I am just thinking to start using sunbed as a sun supplementation. I am just wondering if it is a right direction to go?

  • I don’t think that I have ever sold Vitamin D to any patient that I’ve seen. I often do find a hyper-vitamin D “osis”. Since Vitamin D pulls calcium from soft tissue and moves it into the blood stream, I run into soft tissue calcium deficiency that can cause all kinds of problems that can be hard to figure out. What most patients need that I see is good, fresh essential fatty acids so that they can get calcium into their soft tissue. I do prescribe iodine supplements for people that have acute respiratory symptoms (from colds, flu, allergies, etc) and tell them to stop taking iodine supplements as soon as the symptoms go away because habitual use of iodine supplements will make them hypo-thyroid. For iodine supplements to work properly, they must be chewed on for more than a minute or held in the mouth for more than a minute if they are liquid.

  • Rick Huntoon says:

    Phil;

    Thanks for the information. Any thoughts about helping your readers appreciate vitamin F and the mechanism of helping to replenish the calcium levels in the tissues after high levels of vitamin D from sun exposure cause the depletion of tissue calcium leading to sunburn? Letting them know they can get it from butter (as butter is better) and leafy green vegetables (natures hint at the need when they increase as the amount of sun increases) would continue to increase their level of understanding.

    As Always, thanks for your Beingness;

    Doc Rick

    PS My mom and dad are doing well living in Savannah, GA. I’ll be moving there some time in the not too distant future myself.

  • phillip boelen says:

    Hi great article.

    I have a question for you.I live in the southern hemisphere, Melbourne Australia.We are now going into winter, What do you think is an adequate healthy exposure time of sunlight in winter?

    Cheers.

  • Kate says:

    This was a well-written, info piece that I will share w/Dr. Pritam Tapryal MD, who gives immune IVs that have C in them. Thx. But, Dr. John McDougall says the lab values are too high and as long as one gets the sun exposure of about 10-20 min w/sun entering retina, adequate.

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