Initially, vitamin D was known to cure rickets. Vitamin D then was found to control calcium levels in the blood by controlling absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract. Vitamin D3 is the only active form of the substance that can be utilized by the body and it is produced in the body in response to exposure to ultraviolet B rays from the sun. Since the recommendations to avoid sun exposure have come out, the incidence of inadequate vitamin D levels in adults has risen to approximately 70%. Vitamin D was originally classified as a vitamin because it was believed that it could not be produced by the body but had to be obtained from food. Since it has been determined that the body can make it, vitamin D is now classified as a hormone instead of a vitamin but the name has not changed. In a recent study in the US, infants who are exclusively breast feed have an increased risk of deficiency of vitamin D if the mother has a low level. In children, the study showed that 52% of African American and Hispanic children had low levels while Caucasian children had 50% low levels. Another study looked at pregnant women and found that 73% were deficient in vitamin D and their babies showed a deficiency in 28% at birth. Most diseases now associated with low vitamin D are occurring due to long term deficiencies. At present, the optimum level of vitamin D in the blood is between 40-70 ng/ml.
What diseases are associated with low vitamin D??
- Type I diabetes mellitus – this is the insulin dependent diabetes that is due to destruction of the cells of the pancreas. The rate of new cases of Type I DM increased significantly after the sun avoidance recommendations were issued, and is more common in northern regions of the world and more commonly diagnosed in fall and winter. A study from Finland showed kids given 2000 IU of vitamin D had an 80% reduction in development of Type I DM over a 30 year follow up. Children born to women with low vitamin D had a higher rate of Type I DM.
- Mental diseases – low levels of vitamin D has been linked to increased risk of depression and schizophrenia. A recent study, found that 2000-4000 IU taken daily increased mood of patients. In Alzheimer patients, low levels were found to worsen cognitive performance. In seasonal affective disorders, which a form of depression occurring in winter with low levels of sunlight, mood improved with increased levels of vitamin D.
- Chronic pain – an extensive review of studies recently revealed that patients diagnosed with chronic pain had low levels of vitamin D in 70-80% and when replaced the pain and muscle strength improved. A low back pain study released in 2003 revealed that in the study 83% of patients diagnosed with low back pain had low levels of vitamin D and 95% improved with supplementation of vitamin D.
- Multiple sclerosis – studies have revealed that growing up and living below the 35 degree of latitude for the first ten years of life resulted in a decrease in MS by 50% due to more exposure to the sun. Low levels of vitamin D resulted in greater risk of developing MS and replacement with vitamin D had fewer MS lesions.
- Breast cancer – a 2002 study from Europe showed that 20% of cases of breast cancer could be directly associated with low vitamin D levels. A 1999 study was the first to link risk of breast cancer to low sun exposure and low vitamin D, and sun exposure reduced the risk of development of breast cancer. The study estimated that 70-150 thousand new cases could be prevented by either sun exposure or supplementation with vitamin D. In a 2008 study, 84% of newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer had low levels of vitamin D. A Canadian study done in Toronto showed that women with low vitamin D and breast cancer were 73% more likely to die from the cancer than women with breast cancer and optimal vitamin D levels, and the women with low vitamin D at the time of diagnosis of breast cancer were twice as likely to develop recurrences and spread.
- Lung cancer – the number one killer of men and women who die from cancer. A study showed that sun exposure and optimal levels of vitamin D with lung cancer had three times better survival rates. A Norwegian study showed that raising the level of vitamin D gave a better prognosis for the disease and less spread.
- Colon cancer – low vitamin D has been associated with a 50% increase in risk of developing colon cancer and its mortality. A 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported nearly all people newly diagnosed with colon cancer had a low vitamin D level.
- Prostate cancer – results of recent studies showed that men with metastatic prostate cancer when given 2000 IU of vitamin D for 21 months had a 50% reduction in the diseases and for every man dying from skin cancer 60 die from prostate cancer due to avoidance of the sun and low vitamin D levels.
- Other cancers associated with low vitamin D levels include cancer of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, bladder, rectum, esophagus, kidneys, gallbladder, larynx, pancreas, and Hodgkin’s and non Hodgkin’s lymphomas.
- Periodontal diseases
- Childhood asthma – low levels of vitamin D has been associated with worsened cases of asthma and increased hospitalizations.
If you are concerned about your health, ask your physician about checking a vitamin D level for you and then consider taking vitamin for the rest of your life.