Vitamin D is one of the hottest topics within the field of health sciences. If you live in the northern hemisphere and are trudging through these stark winter months, then the changes of having a deficiency is high. Yet your doctor may say your vitamin D test result is normal. But is it?
I’ll lay out the latest research, give you the run down on how the signs and symptoms and how to spot a deficiency. Plus advice on how to best optimise your vitamin D levels.
Five common signs of a deficiency
According to Michael, F Holick, Ph.d., M.D. a foremost expert on vitamin D and the author of ‘The Vitamin D Solution‘ the following signs and symptoms are classic indications of a deficiency:
- Ongoing musculoskeletal pain and achy bones: often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- Frequent illness/infections
- Neurological symptoms: feeling blue, depression, headaches, migraines, confusion, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating.
- Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
- Head sweating
Do I need to take a vitamin D supplement?
As conveyed in one of my lastest posts, ‘The Vitamin D Deficiency Epidemic’, regular sun exposure first and foremost is the most effective way to boost our vitamin D status. If sunlight isn’t an option, then the next best thing is high grade vitamin D3 supplementation – especially during the winter months. Recent studies have also shown that UVB rays emitted from sunbeds and sunlamps are also very effective at optimising our vitamin D levels. Some foods contain vitamin D, but simply not enough to support healthy levels.
Before supplementing however, getting your vitamin D levels checked through a blood test is highly recommended. While a deficiency is problematic, a toxicity is equally so – as this in itself can cause other health complications.
The best way to know whether or not you need supplemental support is via a blood test. Experts recommend we test twice a year. Early Spring (after winter) and early autumn, when your levels are likely to be at their lowest and highest points. If you are pregnant, trying to fall pregnant…or have cancer – then testing twice yearly is really important.
My doctor said my test result is normal – but is it?
Unfortunately, the standard testing and ‘normal references ranges’ used by many GP practices worldwide is outdated and simply not in line with the latest research. In my own practice, clients commonly say, ‘my doctor said my test results are normal’. And yet from my own clinical observations - it is so evidently clear that their levels are sub optimal and not normal.
The latest research shows that 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L), considered to be the current accepted minimum cut off for sufficiency – is still seriously inadequate and harmful to health. GrassrootsHealth, a nonprofit public health research organisation with an international panel of 48 senior vitamin D researchers states that ‘healthy blood levels are considered to be within 40 to 60 ng/ml. And for optimal disease protection, a vitamin D blood level between 60 to 80 ng/mL (150 to 200 nmol/L) is recommended’.
So how much vitamin D do we need?
It’s a hard question to answer. As everybody is so unique, and there are so many variables to consider. Experts say, you simply can’t go by dosage alone and that you should take whatever dose required to get your vitamin D levels in your blood back up to a healthy range.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin D for government’s around the world typically ranges from 400IU to 1,000IU per day. The national health service (NHS) here in Britain states that children from the age of one, adults and pregnant women ALL need just 10mcg (400IU) daily. Yet there is a well-respected body of growing research recommending that adults require around 4,000IU daily to reach their optimal blood level. Children need less and pregnant women require even more. That’s quite some discrepancy. This in itself could contribute to why so many early stage health conditions, (despite presenting with symptoms) are not being picked up on and indeed continuing to worsen.
If you are deficient, and sunshine isn’t an option, then boosting your levels through high grade supplemental D3 gels, capsules, drops or spray is a convenient option. I prefer drops as they are easy to dispense and get absorbed directly into the blood stream quickly and efficiently.
So if your test results come back ‘normal’ but you are prone to any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms or think you may be deficient, why not book an appointment and I can help you to manage your levels more accurately. I offer face to face appointments from my two London based practices as well as distance appointments via FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom.
The D minder app
Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., M.D. has developed a revolutionary and free app called DMinder.info. Simply plug in your details – country, amount of vitamin D you might already be taking, estimated daily sun exposure, your Fitzpatrick skin type. And the app then estimates what your blood levels are so that you can manage them accordingly. Country dependent, it also tells you the best time of day to optimise your levels. Of course it’s all subjective, based on the data you input. But still – I think it’s a really clever idea and a helpful tool.
Two notes to consider
When supplementing with vitamin D3 new research tells us that:
- vitamin K2 taken alongside vitamin D3 helps to direct calcium into the bones and away from our soft tissues and arteries.
- consuming magnesium can reduce the risk of vitamin D deficiency: a 2013 study found that people who consumed high levels of magnesium were less likely to have low vitamin D.
The organisation Grassroots health is a brilliant, scientific resource offering the latest research and information.
My basic advice would be to get out and about in the sunshine where possible. Supplementation and even safe sunlamp and sun bed UVB exposure are the next best options. Use common sense and reasonable caution and make regular sun exposure a natural part of your lifestyle. Sunshine is good for the soul - and it really IS the best medicine.
Did you know that sunscreen inhibits the absorption of Vitamin D? Tune in for the third part of my vitamin D series where I’ll share with you my advice on natural vs chemical sunscreens and my favourite chemical-free brands.
London naturopath, nutritionist, medical herbalist and BodyTalk practitioner Merran Lusher, ND offers science-based intuitive holistic health consultations and healing for mind, body and soul. Merran consolidates other natural therapies into her treatments including energy work, homeopathy, reiki, dietary and lifestyle advice and much more. She runs a busy weekly remote clinic to clients around the world and also consults across two busy London practices in Chelsea and North London. You can read more about her here.