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Vitamin D Beats Colds & 'Flu PDF Print E-mail

The mIracles of Vitamin D

What doesn’t vitamin D cure?
The fast-paced publication of reports extolling the virtues of vitamin D is astounding. William B Grant PhD of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center in San Francisco, says there is compelling evidence that low vitamin D levels lead to increased risk of rickets (soft bones), osteoporosis (loss of bone), 16 cancers (including prostate, breast, colon, ovary, Hodgkin’s lymphoma), as well as psoriasis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and susceptibility to tuberculosis. [Journal Cosmetic Dermatology 2: 86-98, 2003]
Dr. Robert P Heaney of Creighton University says that efforts to elevate vitamin D beyond prevailing levels in North Americans improves calcium absorption, reduces falls and hip fractures, protects against various cancers and autoimmune disorders and says that "a strong case can be made for immediate improvement in vitamin D status of the general population." [Journal Steroid Biochemistry Molecular Biology Jan 9, 2007]

The common cold
Dr. John Cannell MD, who captains the Vitamin D Council, recently authored a paper which shows the winter increase in colds and flu is attributed to low seasonal vitamin D levels. Dr. Cannell cites the earlier work of R. Edgar Hope-Simpson who first proposed that variations in exposure to solar radiation explains the seasonality of influenza epidemics. [Epidemiological Infection 134: 1129-40, Dec. 2006] Dr. Cannell even has a challenge for visitors to the Vitamin D Council website. He suggests high-dose vitamin D (50,000 IU – 1.25 milligrams) be consumed for 3 days at the first sign of a cold or the flu. So far, Dr. Cannell is receiving many reports of how quickly high-dose vitamin D overpowers the common cold (this writer tried high-dose vitamin D with the first sign of sniffles this winter, and the vitamin D therapy worked rapidly both times).
How did vitamin D escape notice?

Just how vitamin D has not drawn greater attention is difficult to fathom. In winter, when vitamin D levels are low, death rates around the world rise. Winter is the season for heart attacks. The diagnosis of cancer in winter months shortens survival times. There is a decline in mood in winter months, leading to an increase in carbohydrate consumption and obesity. In older adults, low vitamin D levels are associated with mental depression. [American Journal Geriatric Psychiatry 14: 1032-40, 2006]
It’s not like vitamin D hasn’t been brought to center stage. Feature articles in Newsweek and US News & World Report in December of 2006 have been published. But are doctors informing their patients of the revolution underway and prescribing vitamin D? Not yet. Will they ever?

Cutting cancer rates by 30-50%, heart disease by up to 70%, may be too much of a shock now that health care is an industry that relies upon volumes of patients to treat. Prevention is anathema. Medical centers depend upon large numbers of patients to treat to pay off mortgages for building projects. Medical device and drug companies must churn high numbers not only to remain profitable, but to prop up their stock prices on Wall Street. One wonders whether modern medicine will ever let this vitamin D revolution happen? It appears health authorities have misdirected the public.
So far, there has been no response from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding this breakthrough. No press conferences like the NIH typically conducts for breakthrough drugs. The reports of vitamin D’s health benefits are coming from independent researchers rather than public health authorities, who are dragging their feet on this surprising development.

Vitamin D and heart disease
It is increasingly becoming apparent that it is excessive calcium, and not cholesterol, that causes hardening of the arteries and heart attacks. Only about 3% of arterial plaque is cholesterol while 50% is calcium. Vitamin D is an anti-calcifying agent. [Osteoporosis International 18: 251-59, 2007] Kidney disease patients, who are plagued with arterial calcifications, have 10 times the cardiac death rate compared to the general population.
What most doctors and the public have been told is that high-dose vitamin D can induce calcifications of arteries. But Armin Zittermann, PhD, of the Northrhine Westfalia Heart Center in Germany, reports that both extremely high and commonly low intake levels of vitamin D induce calcification of arteries. Calcification from overdose of vitamin D requires many hundreds of thousands of international units and is rare, whereas hundreds of millions of adults are deficient in vitamin D and suffer from calcified arteries as a result of deficiency. Dr. Zitterman points to a study conducted in Japan where adequate vitamin D levels achieved via supplementation reduced the death risk from cardiovascular disease by 70% compared to those who did not use vitamin D supplements. [Current Opinion Lipidology 18: 41-46, Feb. 2007]

Cancer reduction
In February of 2006 a research team led by Cedric F. Garland of the University of California at San Diego, reported that vitamin D supplementation would reduce the occurrence of a wide variety of cancers by 30-50%. [American Journal Public Health 96: 252-61, 2006]
It is estimated that 50,000-63,000 individuals in the United States, and 19,000-25,000 in Great Britain, die prematurely from cancer annually due to insufficient vitamin D. [Photochemistry Photobiology 81: 1276-86, 2005]
The geographical colon, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer belt that encircles the world is in the Northern latitudes. Cities like Seattle, Toronto, Boston, London, Dublin, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Berlin, Moscow, Anchorage, fall within this global belt and have high rates of these cancers.
Recently it was reported that 1000-2000 IU (25-50 micrograms) of vitamin D, obtained from dietary supplements, sunlight exposure, or the diet, would cut the risk of colon cancer in half. [American Journal Preventive Medicine 32: 210-16, 2007]

Sun, diet or pills?
It’s difficult for most people to get optimal amounts of vitamin D. The diet, at best, will only provide a few hundred units of vitamin D. Milk is fortified with synthetic vitamin D2, which is not nearly as potent as natural D3, which is used in most dietary supplements. A glass of milk provides only 100 IU (2.5 micrograms).

Fifteen minutes of sun exposure to 40-percent of the body is suggested daily for fair-skinned individuals, and more time for dark-skinned people. People with dark skin pigmentation simply don’t make as much vitamin D as Caucasians. A recent study conducted in a northern state (Michigan) found 50% of black mothers and 65% of their newborn infants were vitamin D deficient. [Clinical Pediatrics 46: 42-44, 2007] Even adults who receive adequate sun exposure have been found to be deficient in vitamin D. [Menopause Feb 6, 2007]
Virtually all of northern Europe is either deficient or undernourished, and in sunny middle-eastern countries, vitamin D deficiency is rampant because of clothing that covers most of the skin. [Journal Steroid Biochemistry Molecular Biology Feb. 5, 2007]

Humans have been made phobic about sunlight exposure, fearful of skin cancer and the deadly malignant melanoma. But it is interesting to note that mortality rates for melanoma rose steeply after sunscreens came into common use, not before. Sunscreen lotion blocks the vitamin D-producing UV-B rays, while allowing the deeper-penetrating, cancer-causing UV-A rays to burn the skin.