Vitamin D How Much to Take and When

The major issue with obtaining vitamin D from a pill is that you have to remember to take the pill. Nowadays, it’s easy to find supplements with 1,000 IU or even 2,000 IU per tablet or capsule. This wasn’t the case just a few years ago. You can readily find supplements where you find other vitamins. Any national brand will do. There is even a liquid supplement that has 500 IU per teaspoon, which is ideal for children and adults who don’t want to take a pill or have trouble swallowing pills.

Everyone from the age of one onward should be taking a 1,000 IU supplement daily in addition to a multivitamin that has 400 IU. In all, you will be ingesting between 1,500 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily among the supplements, multivitamins, and dietary sources. That’s perfectly fine and right on target. (Don’t forget to include calcium by drinking milk or orange juice containing calcium and vitamin D). If your doctor tests you and determines that you are deficient, then you can certainly up the dosage to 5,000 to 6,000 IU a day under your doctor’s care (again, this will be in addition to your multivitamin, so you’ll be ingesting up to 6,400 IU a day for two or three months in supplement form). Depending on your level of deficiency, your doctor may prescribe a more aggressive treatment, with high doses of vitamin D for a certain time period.

Remember that it doesn’t matter whether you take vitamin D2 or D3, though D3 appears to be the most available form now on the market. (D2 is the only form available as a pharmaceutical). You also needn’t worry about when or how to take it. Vitamin D supplements can be taken with food, with milk, or on an empty stomach. You do not need to ingest them with fatty food, contrary to a popular belief. It is recommended to take your vitamin D supplement when you take your multivitamin and any other supplements you might already be taking; get into the routine of taking this pill every day. Aging does not affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D either from the diet or from supplements. And there is no advantage to taking smaller doses more frequently rather than one large dose of 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day. This also means that you could take either 1,000 IU of vitamin D once a day or seven 1,000 IU of vitamin D supplements once a week. It will work the same way, though this is an impractical way to go, as you are more likely to forget. If you forget just one day, you can take two pills the next day.

Doctors recommend that everyone take at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day (and preferably 2,000 IU) along with a multivitamin containing 400 IU of vitamin D, all year long. This will not cause any buildup of vitamin D in the body, newborns in their first year of life, it is recommended that at least 400 IU a day and up to 1,000 IU. This is perfectly safe and may be more beneficial than just 400 IU (remember, Finnish children who took 2,000 IU a day for the first year of life had a 78 percent reduced risk of developing type 1 diabetes 31 years later).  It is recommended that children between one and twelve years old take at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day.

Rectifying a vitamin D deficiency takes time. You won’t see blood levels rise overnight. Healthy adults taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day can reach their peak blood level in five to six weeks. For every 100 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 you ingest, you raise your blood level of vitamin D by 1 nanogram per milliliter.

The Benefits of Boosting Calcium: All the Way to Weight Loss

An estimated 44 percent to 87 percent of Americans don’t get enough calcium, including children, who are falling severely short on this mineral critical for proper growth and development. Unfortunately, there are not usually any obvious symptoms of a calcium deficiency, and people can go for years in a calcium-deficient state before any noticeable problems occur. Most of the symptoms that might occur due to a calcium deficiency would be seen only if calcium levels are low in the blood. Because the body is very good at keeping the blood calcium levels steady (often at the expense of bone strength), most people will never experience any symptoms of a deficiency until their bones are significantly weakened and fracture.

The benefits of boosting calcium go far beyond the obvious reasons of helping to normalize calcium levels and ensure healthy physiological processing. Several recent studies have shown links between increased calcium intake and specific health benefits in any array of conditions.

Premenstrual syndrome. It is found that a 50 percent decrease in PMS symptoms for women given calcium supplementation, compared to a 30 percent decrease for the placebo group. No other drug addresses all these symptoms as effectively. Another report, based on an epidemiological study of more than two thousand women, found a strong link between calcium and vitamin D intake and the risk of PMS. A high intake of calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of PMS.

Weight loss. Other studies have demonstrated links between increased calcium intake and weight loss. One of the researchers reported that calcium plays a key role in metabolic disorders linked to obesity, and also that high calcium diets lead to the release of a hormone that leads to the body’s fat cells losing weight. This is the basis on which the milk industry claims its product helps cinch a waistline, bolstering the “it does a body good” mantra.

High blood pressure. Clinical trials have also linked how calcium levels with high blood pressure. Argentinean research showed that women who take calcium during pregnancy may lower their children’s future risk of blood-pressure problems. Studies done at Rockefeller University showed that calcium supplements were of general benefit to both mother and baby during pregnancy.

Colon cancer. Researchers have linked calcium with the prevention of colon cancer.

Stroke. Harvard scientists reported on a link between increased calcium and the prevention of stroke.

Cholesterol. Researchers have shown that increased calcium can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

The Ex Factor

You know you can’t get through a health book without a mention of the “ex” factor, or exercise. Physical activity directly ties in to the conversation about bone and muscle health. Physical exercise, especially the weight-bearing kind, puts healthy stress on your bones to keep them strong and force them to be even stronger. It also works the muscles that keep you nimble and quick on your feet.

Young women and men who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass than those who do not. Exercising allows us to maintain muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which in turn helps to prevent falls and related fractures. This is especially important for older adults and people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis. The exercise you choose needn’t be complicated, boring, or overly challenging or demanding. The best exercise for your bones is the kind that forces you to work against gravity, even if its’ simply by working against your own body weight, as is the case for modern forms of yoga, mat Pilates, and the use of a resistance band. Other examples include weight training, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, dancing, and of course, walking. It’s the constant pounding on the ground that translates to better muscle strength in the hips and lower back, maintaining or increasing bone density. These are the two places that are at highest risk for fracture.

The Diet Factor

Given the general state of our dietary habits, whereby processed foods take center stage in the lives of millions. A plausible argument to explain why many Americans fail to meet their calcium needs is the mere lack of good nutrition.

What’s more, eating a healthy diet is a little-known but extremely important way to prevent skin cancer. A 1995 study published in the International Journal of Cancer reported that people who ate a low-fat diet had 90 percent less chance of getting skin cancer than those who ate a high-fat diet. Conversely, a diet high in fat shortens the time between UV exposure and the onset of skin cancer and increases the number of tumors that develop. According to this same article, the magnitude of the dietary effect is almost directly related to the amount and kind of fat consumed (saturated fat appears to be most closely related to skin cancer).

Unfortunately, for a century now, the American diet has been getting higher in fat – especially in the extra-unhealthy saturated fats. This may partly explain why skin cancer rates have gone up, as well as diabetes and heart disease. The average American diet is about 16 percent saturated fat, whereas most qualified dieticians will tell you it should be no more than one third of that. To make matters worse, there has been a trend toward fad weight-loss programs advocating high fat content (the Atkins diet is probably the best know of these).

Leaving aside whether these diets actually work in the long term to help people keep weight off, diets high in saturated fat may cause a variety of life-threatening health problems and probably contribute to skin cancer, not to mention all other types of cancer. But you don’t necessarily have to go on a traditional “diet” to achieve the results you’re looking for. You just need to start moving toward foods lower in saturated fat and try to limit or evict those foods that contain excessive amounts of fat – which is typically found in processed products (which also usually contain lots of salt and sugar) and marbled meats. There are several excellent eating plans out there that advocate eating this way.

The Role of Calcium in Their Everyday Function

Calcium is required for skeletal and cardiac muscle contraction, blood-vessel expansion and contraction, secretion of hormones and enzymes, and transmission of impulses through the nervous system. The body strives to maintain constant concentrations of calcium in blood, muscle, tissues, and intercellular fluids, though less than 1 percent of total body calcium is needed to support these functions. The rest of your calcium – 99 percent – is stored in your bones and teeth, where it supports their structure. And bone itself undergoes continuous remodeling, with constant resorption (breakdown of old bone) and deposition of calcium into a newly formed bone collagen matrix. The balance between bone resorption and deposition changes with age. Bone formation exceeds resorption in growing children, whereas in early and middle adulthood the two processes are relatively equal. In aging adults, particularly among postmenopausal women and men over sixty years old, bone breakdown exceeds formation, resulting in bone loss that increases the risk of osteoporosis over time.

We all need calcium to survive, just as we need water. But there is a certain balance to be struck, a so-called homeostasis. In fact, you can think of the homeostasis of calcium ions in the body as a center of gravity for a number of physiological processes. If there is too little calcium in your blood (a condition called hypocalcemia), soft-tissue cells – especially nerves and muscle, which rely on calcium to operate – become dysfunctional. Your entire neuromuscular system will become abnormally excitable, and impulses may be triggered spontaneously. This, in fact, sends your body into convulsions as muscles, including those of the respiratory system, contract uncontrollably. In this situation, a person can die from failure to breathe. The heart, which also depends on calcium to beat properly, can lose its rhythm, with fatal consequences. Conversely, if there is too much calcium in the blood (a condition called hypercalcemia), organs calcify and eventually cease to work. This is especially true for the kidneys. Blood vessels will calcify, rendering them less plant and thus increasing the risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. Those excess calcium ions have an opposite effect on the nervous system, abnormally depressing it and causing depression, constipation, and confusion. Having too much calcium can be just as hazardous as having too little.

So you can see how important it is to maintain steady and healthy levels of calcium in the body. You can also see how vitamin D promotes healthy bones by indirectly maintaining adequate serum calcium and phosphorus for bone mineralization to occur. Vitamin D controls the level of calcium in the blood. If there is not enough calcium in the diet, then it will be drawn from the bone. High levels of vitamin D (from the diet or from sunlight) will actually demineralize bone if sufficient calcium is not present.

We know that if you are vitamin D deficient, as most Americans are, your body will steal the calcium out of your bones. That is what would cause you to have osteopenia or osteoporosis, severe low bone density with increased risk of fracture. But being vitamin D deficient also prevents calcium from coming into the bones. And as a result, there’s nothing more than a Jell-O-like collagen matrix left behind, and it will get hydrated just like Jell-O and water.

Women who complain of throbbing, aching bone pain are sometimes met with doctors who can’t understand it. When the doctor presses on a patient’s bones almost anywhere, she will often wince in pain, and that’s because the doctor is pressing down where there’s no mineralized bone on the surface. It’s simply a Jell-O-like substance, triggering significant discomfort. The covering on the bone is full of nerve endings, and if there is no mineralized bone underneath it but instead a rubbery “Jell-O”, then when the doctor presses on it, that compresses the covering and excites those nerve endings, resulting in pain. Like Jell-O, the collagen matrix expands under the periosteal bone covering, causing throbbing, aching bone pain. When people are sitting with aches in their hips or lying in bed with throbbing aches in their bones, it can be very hard for physicians to immediately think of vitamin D deficiency. But often that’s exactly what’s causing the problem.

Making sense of this remarkable relationship between calcium regulation and vitamin D has opened many new doors in science and medicine. In addition to shifting the course of treatment for people suffering from bone disease, it has paved a new path for people suffering from calcium-regulation disorders due to underlying medical conditions. It suddenly became possible, for example, to treat patients who had lost their parathyroid glands or their kidneys and, as a result, could no longer regulate the level of calcium in their blood. Now that we had the ability to synthesize activated vitamin D hormone commercially, we could treat these patients with activated vitamin D and calcium. The effects were dramatic, putting an end to their painful muscle spasms, convulsions, and chronic bone disease.

The Dynamic duo of Calcium and Vitamin D Can Sustain Your Life

Virtually everyone can recite the milk industry’s campaign slogan: It does a body good. Much of this goodness no doubt hinges on the calcium content of milk. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with over 99 percent of the amount present being found in the bones and teeth. For the growth and maintenance of healthy bones it is essential that we have sufficient calcium intake; we are at risk of developing bone disease such as osteoporosis when calcium leaching is not balanced by dietary ingestion. But calcium is not only important for the skeleton; it also has a role to play in nerve function, blood clotting, muscle health, and other areas.

And, like an orphan child without a parent to guide it properly, calcium cannot work properly in the body without the help of vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D share special relationship that plays into everything about you, from your ability to build and maintain bone strength to your neuromuscular faculties and brain power. It is also well recognized that vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium as well as phosphate.

The Missing Link Between Vitamin D and Bone Health

To discover that sunlight held a secret ingredient to preventing and treating bone diseases like rickets was one thing, but understanding why and how this all worked, from a single ray of UVB to health in the human body, was clearly another. It took scientists several decades to uncover the mechanism by which vitamin D produced in the skin could effect so many positive health benefits.

One of the reasons it took so long to tease out vitamin D’s complex biological pathway and influence on other physiological processes is that we simply didn’t have the tools to track vitamin D down. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that new laboratory techniques emerged to afford researchers the opportunity to follow vitamin D’s intricate actions using radioactively labeled substances. By 1971, it was clear that vitamin D went through sequential transformations in the body that entailed inactive metabolites along the way until the kidneys converted the major circulating form to activated vitamin D.

Isolating and determining the molecular structure of all these vitamin D metabolites helped put to rest the biggest mystery that had troubled vitamin D scientists for decades: just how did vitamin D influence calcium deposition to build strong bones? In the early 1950s, the researcher discovered that vitamin D can actually remove calcium from bones when it is needed by the body. At about the same time, the Norwegian biochemist, who had been testing different diets on animals for years, concluded that the uptake of calcium from food is guided by some unknown “endogenous factor”. He believed this endogenous factor sent a message to the intestines that the body needed calcium. That message turned out to be activated vitamin D. With vitamin D’s identity solved, answers began to emerge in the experiments tracing the activation of vitamin D.

Once we had our finger on activated vitamin D, and how it came to be in a complex series of conversions through organs and bloodstream, it was apparent that we weren’t dealing with just another vitamin. We were deciphering a previously vague and convoluted picture of how “vitamin D” worked on the body. And because of its profound effects, medical scientists quickly that it belonged in the hormone category. No sooner had they singled out the active form of vitamin D, than they reclassified it as a hormone that controlled calcium metabolism, which refers to how the body maintains adequate levels of calcium. This marked the genesis of understanding not only the relationship of vitamin D to the body’s endocrine system and calcium regulation but also how vitamin D could effect positive change of myriad biological processes, from modulating the immune system to inhibiting the skin cell growth that leads to skin disorders like psoriasis.

Hormones are unique substances produced in the body. The word itself from Greek verb horman, meaning “to stir things up”. Acting as internal signals, hormones control not only different aspects of metabolism but also many other functions – from cell and tissue growth to blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, and even the activity of the reproductive system. By definition, hormones are produced by one organ and then transported in the bloodstream to a target organ, where they can cause a specific biological action. Evidence for reclassifying the active form of vitamin D came with the realization that this form of vitamin D is produced by the kidneys and that its secretion by the kidneys into the bloodstream, where it can then travel to the small intestine, leads to its buildup in cell nuclei of the intestine, where it regulates the efficiency of the absorption of dietary calcium.

Blood Sugar and Metabolic Syndrome

High blood pressure. High blood sugar. Unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Excess abdominal (belly) fat. If you were to look into a crowd of Americans, say, at a football game or large concert, and start counting how many of them could check off all of these conditions as relating to them, you’d be tagging one of every six people. That’s forty-seven million Americans. Collectively, this set of conditions has a strange name: metabolic syndrome, or, stranger still, syndrome X. You may not intuitively put high blood pressure, for example, in the same category as metabolism, but all of these conditions share a unique relationship. And when they combine in the body, they can have an epic impact. These risk factors double your risk of blood-vessel and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. They increase your risk of diabetes by five times.

When you hear the word diabetes, most likely it’s related to type 2, so-called adult onset diabetes. It’s the most common form of diabetes; of the 23.6 million people with diabetes, 90 percent to 95 percent have type 2. Like type 1, this form disrupts the body’s ability to metabolize sugar for fuel, but type 2 is not an autoimmune disease. In type 2 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas continue to make insulin, but when there is too much fat, there is a resistance to insulin, so the body cannot use it effectively. When that happens, a person is said to be insulin resistant and prediabetic. As the disease progresses, insulin production slows down after several years, and the result is similar to what occurs in type 1 diabetes: glucose, the body’s preferred form of energy, builds up in the blood and the body cannot efficient use of its main source of fuel.

Unlike type 1, this form of diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, a family history of diabetes, physical inactivity, and ethnicity. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, which is why this type gets so much media exposure now that obesity rates have soared. For some, reversing this disease is possible through changes in diet and exercise habits. But for others, the ravages of this disease can make for a long struggle that destroys the quality of life and brings a complicated morass of medical challenges.

Because activated vitamin D can increase insulin production, it’s no surprise that research has indicated that UVB radiation – and hence, adequate levels of vitamin D in the body – may have an indirect role in preventing type 2 diabetes. We have yet to learn the exact effect vitamin D has on the risk for type 2 diabetes, but the evidence continues to collect showing a clear association between sufficient vitamin D and efficient cellular metabolism. Numerous longitudinal studies have consistently demonstrated that people who suffer from type 2 diabetes typically have low vitamin D levels.

A lack of vitamin D is related to both insulin resistance and impaired pancreatic beta cells, which are the sources of insulin for the body’s metabolism and which do possess vitamin D receptors. In studies done with mice, beta cells lose their capacity to secrete insulin when their vitamin D receptor isn’t functioning as it should because of low vitamin D.

In 2004, researchers at UCLA unveiled their findings after trying to make better sense of the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) Study, a population-based look at vitamin D’s role in metabolic syndrome. The CARDIA Study examined a sampling of 3,157 black and white adults aged eighteen to thirty years from four metropolitan areas in the United States. What it found was that among over-weight adults, the more milk peo9pel drank, the less likely they were to be insulin resistant. The numbers, in fact, are quite staggering – people with the highest dairy consumption had a 72 percent lower incidence of metabolic syndrome. The study concluded that dairy consumption could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The UCLA team confirmed this conclusion in its own study and reported specifically on how higher levels of vitamin D correlated to this lowered risk.

Even more revealing have been the studies done on the effect both vitamin D and calcium – the high-powered couple – can have on reducing one’s risk for diabetes. One large study published in 2006 by Diabetes Care that looked at middle-aged women concluded that a high daily intake of vitamin D (greater than 800 IU) and calcium (greater than 1,200 milligrams) was associated with a 33 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetics tend to be stuck in a vicious cycle whereby they battle weight problems and lack the energy or motivation to exercise, precipitating other health challenges – from their overworked organs to their inability to get a good night’s sleep. The number of potential hazards that flow from their condition and resulting secondary conditions is practically limitless. Add to that a vitamin D deficiency, knowing all the areas in which vitamin D can have a positive impact, and you can quickly grasp the magnitude and intricacy of this problem. Achieving a break in the cycle typically requires a complete lifestyle and dietary change, as well as a focus on reducing stress levels that can thwart weight-loss efforts and perpetuate hormonal imbalances.

In the last few years, the spotlight has been turned on teens, who are currently changing the actuarial tables. Soaring obesity rates among our adolescents may actually shift their longevity, snipping two to five years off their life spans as compared to their parents’. And new research has also linked low levels of vitamin D to high blood pressure and high blood sugar in this age group – the very risk factors for heart disease and conditions associated with this elusive metabolic syndrome. A team of researchers found that teens with the lowest vitamin D levels were more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure and high blood sugar than those with higher vitamin D levels. They were also four times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than their counterparts with optimal levels of vitamin D. The vitamin D-deficiency pattern was consistent with earlier findings in that blacks had the lowest levels, followed by the Mexican Americans; whites had the highest levels, but all of the teens showed a deficiency. Further research will determine the extent to which vitamin D lies behind these health problems and how much of an impact it can have in preventing, treating, and reverting these problems.