Just One Pill Away
by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi
Humanity is on the verge of a gigantic leap forward in health promotion with rapid-fire discoveries that a single vitamin pill may vanquish cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of mortality in the U.S., as well as quell autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus), diminish the occurrence of diabetes, reduce obesity, and effectively treat multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and high blood pressure, plus conquer the common cold and even defeat tuberculosis, an infectious lung disease that affects one-third of the people of the world.
Literally leading medicine "out of dark ages" is the sunshine vitamin — vitamin D. Long mischaracterized as a vitamin that can be toxic if taken in amounts that exceed what is found in common multivitamins, and mistakenly said that vitamin D must be chemically altered to produce a man-made molecular version that does not induce over-calcification, most physicians, pharmacists and dieticians have been incorrectly trained to warn the public away from higher doses of vitamin D.
Most multivitamins provide no more than 400 IU (international units — a trivial 10 micrograms, or 1/100th of one milligram) of vitamin D, and the National Academy of Sciences says 2000 IU (50 micrograms) is the safe upper limit, with toxicity beginning around 10,000 IU (250 micrograms).
But Reinhold Vieth PhD, researcher at the University of Toronto, notes that blood levels don’t even measurably rise till 4000 IU (100 micrograms) is consumed and toxicity begins at 40,000 IU (1000 micrograms or 1 milligram) only after many weeks of use.
To demonstrate just how ridiculous the warnings of vitamin D overdose have been, a person standing in the summer sun for an hour at noontime in a Southern latitude (Arizona, Florida) in swim trunks would naturally produce about 10,000 IU (250 micrograms) of vitamin D through skin exposure. Sun poisoning from vitamin D overdose has never been reported. [Am J Clinical Nutrition 73 (2): 288-94, Feb 2001; Am J Clinical Nutrition 69(5): 842-56, May 1999]
Researchers recently stated that the Food & Nutrition Board’s 2000 IU (50 microgram) upper safe limit is not based on current evidence and that the absence of any toxicity in healthy adults at 10,000 IU (250 micrograms) should be supported as the completely safe upper daily limit. [American Journal Clinical Nutrition 85: 6-18, Jan. 2007]
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]
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]
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]
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.
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.
Calculating the cost of deficiency
Researchers Cedric Garland, William B Grant and Edward D. Gorham claim it would cost about $1 billion a year to provide 1000 IU (250 micrograms) of vitamin D to all adult Americans, and the expected benefits for cancer would be in the range of $16-25 billion. [Recent Results Cancer Research 174: 225-34, 2007] The total U.S. economic burden due to vitamin D insufficiency from inadequate exposure to solar UV-B radiation, diet, food fortification and supplements is estimated at $40-56 billion annually (2004). [Photochemistry Photobiology 81: 1276-86, 2005]