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Don't Be Deficient in Vitamin D

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

If vitamin D is not part of your regular nutrition program, you may be missing out in a big way. New studies seem to come out on almost a weekly basis showing the variety of ways it can positively impact our health. Unfortunately, most of us are not getting enough. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed 59% of the participants in the study had low levels of vitamin D in their blood and almost 25% had levels below 20 ng/ml, which is considered a serious deficiency(1). What is it about this single vitamin has made it the second-most popular single nutrient, next to omega-3s? Is it possible you may be deficient? If so, what are the risks? We'll take a look at these questions and more.

Where did the sun go?

When is the last time you spent the better part of the day outdoors in the sun? Over the years, we've spent more and more time indoors. Long work weeks and busy weekend agendas seem to keep us from finding the summer sun. For those who live in northern states, there's little opportunity to get much sun during the cold months of the year except through occasional vacations. How much of an impact does sun exposure have? Just 20-30 minutes of mid-day sun on most of your skin produces a whopping 10,000 IU vitamin D. For perspective, the Life Time Performance Multivitamin has 1000 IU, which is at the higher end for high-quality multivitamins! If you tried to get that much vitamin D from milk, it would take about 50 glasses in a day(2)! All of this leads up to the fact that Vitamin D, like many other important nutrients, is at levels far below optimal in a large part of our population. A significant part of the population is deficient in vitamin D, with an even greater percentage of the population being deficient during the winter months.

Effects of Vitamin D deficiency

There is a growing number of benefits associated with vitamin D deficiency. First, there is evidence to suggest that the flu season begins when we begin spending more time indoors and our vitamin D levels fall. With all of the hype about the flu vaccine, wouldn't it be great if we simply solved the issue by increasing supplemental vitamin D intake during the winter months? Supplementing with 2000 IU has been shown to dramatically decrease the occurrence of cold and flu symptoms(3). This past year, the flu got more attention than ever. Next fall, be sure to plan ahead by ensuring your vitamin D levels are optimized.

Vitamin D seems to have a positive effect in many other metabolic functions. The following is a list of additional health benefits of vitamin D are just some of the more current findings:

  • A 2009 study published in Diabetes Care showed that insufficient vitamin D levels may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome by 52%(4)
  • A 2010 study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that in people with insulin resistance and low vitamin D levels, increasing vitamin D also reduced insulin resistance, which is a factor that affects the ability to manage weight(5)
  • Vitamin D may protect against Crohn's disease according to to 2010 study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry(6)
  • Low calcium and vitamin D levels has been shown to be an independent predictor of obesity, meaning those with the lowest levels of vitamin D were shown to be the most overweight(7)
  • Research from The Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute has shown that correcting deficiency levels of vitamin D lowers the risk of heart disease(8). One mechanism for increasing heart disease risk is that vitamin D seems to prevent the buildup of cholesterol in immune system cells called macrophage cells. When vitamin D levels are too low, the macrophages become built up with cholesterol. As that happens, they become foam cells. Foam cells lead to the buildup of atherosclerosis.(11)
  • Evidence suggests that sufficient vitamin D levels are critical for immune system activation(9)

These are just a sampling of the more recent study results related to vitamin D. Some experts believe this is just the beginning of major research on the significance of vitamins. One of the reasons vitamin D studies seem to show such promising results is that the studies are using much higher doses than are typically recommended by RDA levels. If the findings above are not powerful enough to make you take action in ensuring you're vitamin D levels are optimized, consider this statement:

 "This is like the Holy Grail of cancer medicine; vitamin D produced a drop in cancer rates greater than that for quitting smoking, or indeed any other countermeasure in existence."

-- Dennis Mangan, clinical laboratory scientist

Optimizing Vitamin D Levels

Eating a healthy diet is no guarantee of having optimal levels of vitamin D, nor is drinking milk on a regular basis. As vitamin D expert, Dr. Michael F Holick, says:

 "We estimate that vitamin D deficiency is the most common medical condition in the world."

There is still some debate on what optimal levels of vitamin D should be, but most experts agree that daily intake should be far higher than the current recommended daily allowances (RDAs). Research also shows that genetics may play a role in how much vitamin D individuals need. It seems that those of northern descent are able to get by with less vitamin D since historically they were exposed to less regular sun. That is why a blood test is the best method to determine whether an individual's blood is at optimal levels of vitamin D. The blood test is called a 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D test. It can easily be done through veni-puncture and is small investment to ensure your blood-levels of this critical vitamin are at optimal levels. The typical categories for vitamin D blood levels are as follows:




Deficiency (high risk)



Insufficient (moderate risk)



Adequate (low risk)




A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that in order to reduce insulin resistance, blood levels of vitamin D should be 80-119 nm/l(5). This is higher than the typical levels considered to be "adequate," and based the overwhelming research on vitamin D, ideal levels will likely be adjusted. According to the Vitamin D Council, if you're not receiving regular sun exposure, you can supplement with 5000 IU vitamin D for 2-3 months and then get the 25-dihydroxyvitamin D test completed. The council suggests optimal levels of vitamin D to be 50-80 ng/mL or 125-200 nM/L. If you're unsure about what you should do, talk with a Nutrition Coach about getting your vitamin D levels tested and about how much vitamin D you should be supplementing with. If you're looking for a high-quality product to supplement with, you can order premier quality vitamin D from our online store. If the information above hasn't been quite enough to help you take action, I'll leave you with one final quote to consider:

"In all my many years of practice of medicine, I've never seen one vitamin, even vitamin C, have such a profound effect on human health."

-- Dr. Soram Khalsa, board-certified internist and medical director for the East-West Medical Research Institute


  1. Medical News Today. Low Levels Of Vitamin D Linked To Muscle Fat, Decreased Strength In Young People. Medical News Today online article
  2. Vitamin D Council. Understanding Vitamin D Cholecalciferol. Vitamin D Council website.
  3. Cannell J, Zasloff M, Garlnd C, Scragg R, Giovannucci E.  On the epidemiology of influenza. Virology Journal. 2008;5:29
  4. Lu L, Pan A, Hu FB, Franco OH, Li H, Li X, Yang X, Chen Y, Yu Z, Lin X. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D Concentration and Metabolic Syndrome among Middle-aged and Elderly Chinese. Diabetes Care. 2009;32:1278-83
  5. von Hurst P, Stonehouse W, Coad J. Vitamin D supplementation reduces insulin resistance in South Asian women living in New Zealand who are insulin resistant and vitamin D deficient - a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Brit Jour Nutr. 2010;103:549-555
  6. Wang T, Dabbas B, Bitton AJ, Soualhine H, Tavera-Mendoza LE, Dionne S, Bitton A, Seidman EG, Behr MA, White JH. Direct and indirect induction by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 of the NOD2/CARD15-beta defense in 2 innate immune pathway defective in Crohn's disease. Jour Bio Chem. 2010;285:2227-31
  7. Kamycheva E, Joakimsen RM, Jorde R. Intakes of calcium and vitamin d predict body mass index in the population of Northern Norway. J Nutr. 2003;133:201-6
  8. WebMd. Treating Vitamin D Deficiency Significantly Reduces Heart Disease Risk. WebMD online article, source: Jess Gomez, Intermountain Medical Center.
  9. von Essen MR, Kongsbak M, Schjerling P, Olgaard K, Odum N, Geisler C. Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells. Nature Immunology. 2010;11:344-349
  10. Hathcock JN, Shao A, Vieth R, Heaney R. Risk assessment for Vitamin D. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;85(1):6-18
  11. Oh J, Weing S, Felton SK, Bhandare S, Riek A, Butler B, Proctor BM, Pretty  M, Chen Z, Schechtman KB, Bemal-Mizrach L, Bemal-Mizrachi C. 1,25(OH) vitamin D inhibits foam cell formation and suppresses macrophage cholesterol uptake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Circulation. 2009;120(8):687-698

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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