Is there a way to make healthy choices affordable? It troubles me as a naturopathic doctor when I hear from one of my patients that they have spent hard-earned money on a supplement that is not even indicated for them. Or, the supplement is a good fit for them, but they are taking it in a way that just ends up becoming expensive urine. Or even worse, the supplement is causing them more harm than good.
What I am about to describe is a smarter way to take supplements. One which combines the knowledge of textbooks and evidence based natural medicine, but also does not forget about individualized medicine and the inherent wisdom of nature. Mother nature existed long before supplements and clinical trials. Nature is very smart in that it packages all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals together with their necessary cofactors and enzymes to insure optimal absorption and utilization in the body. This is what you would normally get when you eat nutritious and wholesome food in it’s most natural state. So why are so many people in Canada showing underlying nutrient deficiencies?
There are many reasons, but that is too extensive of a discussion for this article. In short, over the last century, humans have experienced the largest diet change in history – for convenience, people no longer grow there own food and instead have adopted the Standard American Diet (SAD diet) consisting of foods that are mass produced from deficient soil and foods that are overly processed and refined. The nutrient composition in the same fruits and vegetables found in grocery stores today is an average of 15% lower compared to 50 years ago (here). This would mean that we should be eating 15% more fruits and vegetable in order to reach the same amounts of nutrients. But instead of increasing our vegetables, North Americans are consuming two-thirds (2/3) of their calories from depleted, man-made sources such as refined sugars, added fats and oils, white flour, white rice, and distilled liquor (here).
In addition, 68% of the conventionally grown produce in the grocery store is now found to have at least one pesticide (here), with bell peppers found to have 88 different pesticide residues (here). These extra toxins require additional nutrients to be detoxified and removed from the body. Therefore, all this has led to a nutritionally incomplete diet with widespread underlying nutritional deficiencies. This is a possible reason to consider supplementation to help correct and prevent the deficiencies’ effects on the body. However, the problem with supplements is that many are isolated compounds and have lost the optimal packaging as nature intended.
Therefore, before I take any supplement I always ask myself:
- How would I normally find this nutrient in nature ?
- How can I mimic nature to increase the products absorption and effectiveness by the body ?
- What is the most effective dose for me ?
Common Sense Approach to Vitamin D
Are you deficient in Vitamin D?
The latest research review has determined that 70% to 97% of Canadians will become vitamin D deficient this winter (here). It is estimated that correcting vitamin D deficiency would save the Canadian health system an estimated $14 billion annually, and prevent 16% of premature deaths (here). During the Canadian winter months, the cold weather tends to make us bundle up, as well as limits our time spent outside. Both of these factors reduce our exposure to the vitamin D producing sunshine. In addition, for Canadians living between latitudes 43 to 55 degrees (including Moncton at 46 degrees), there is a 4-5 month stretch in the winter where UVB rays from the sun are not even strong enough to produce adequate levels of the vitamin, whether skin is exposed to sunshine or not.
Since we are not getting enough UVB to produce adequate levels of vitamin D, we must consider vitamin D rich foods or supplements. However, the Vitamin D Council informs us that the few foods which do contain vitamin D, contain too little to be of any noticeable benefit and therefore should not be considered a satisfactory source of vitamin D. So, we should at least consider vitamin D supplementation, especially during the Canadian winter season.
Why is vitamin D important?
Everyone knows about vitamin D’s role in bone development, bone health, and its importance in the prevention of osteoporosis. This bone health function is achievable with a small amount of vitamin D. But, vitamin D has been found to have far more functions in the body than just its role in bone health. Activated vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that acts as a key or gatekeeper of more than 2,700 different sites on your DNA genome. The vitamin D binding sites are near genes involved in virtually every known major disease of humans. It prevents disease by making sure that certain unwanted genes stay locked up and controlled, while genes needed to prevent disease get turned on when they are needed.
The Vitamin D Council reviewed the recent scientific research and found that with vitamin D supplementation, to the optimal blood concentration range, resulted in more than just bone health. They found links to the prevention of over 100 different diseases. Some of the findings include a 77% reduction in all-cancer incidence (especially breast, colon, and rectal cancers), 25% reduction of cardiovascular disease, 33% reduction of diabetes, and a 64-90% reduction in colds and flus. Other less understood links were found with depression, multiple sclerosis, cognitive health, autoimmune diseases, and muscle pain or weakness.
How much Vitamin D should I take?
Well, there is conflicting evidence regarding the recommended dose, with certain dosages being helpful for some people yet dangerous for others. Many factors (body composition, age, medications, kidney and liver function, nutrient cofactor status, etc) affect how the body responds to vitamin D. Therefore, the optimal dose of vitamin D is different for every person. Naturopathic doctors are trained at taking a comprehensive history, taking into account all aspects of an individual’s health, and then choosing the correct dosage. Once this is determined, more than 93% of patients can achieve normalized levels without risk of toxicity (here). To ensure that you are in the optimal range, naturopathic doctors can test and carefully monitor your body’s vitamin D concentrations in order to adjust the dosage with how your body is responding. The Vitamin D Council describes this testing as “the only way to know for sure if a certain dosage is working for you.”
Ensuring the optimal levels in the body is important because toxicity from excess vitamin D is dangerous causing calcification and damage to internal organs, and can cause formation of calcium kidney stones. Also, taking vitamin D supplements alone without the necessary cofactors can potentially cause plaque buildup in your arteries (atherosclerosis), which is the leading cause of heart disease. However, checking with your naturopathic doctor regarding the required cofactors that should be taken with vitamin D will prevent this.
Is there a best time of day to take Vitamin D to increase its absorption and effectiveness?
Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight. Therefore, wouldn’t it be best to take your vitamin D supplement in tune with the sun’s schedule and when your body would normally receive it? I like to take half of my dose in the morning, to set up my circadian rhythm, and the other half at noon, when the body would normally be exposed to maximum sunlight. If you were to take vitamin D in the evening, then you would be telling the body that it is daytime and this can disrupt the body’s natural rhythms.
So, what is the common sense approach to taking vitamin D?
First, determine if vitamin D is indicated for your unique health situation. If so, then make sure you are taking the dose that is specifically suited to you and that it is taken with the necessary heart protecting cofactors. For added effectiveness, consider taking it in accordance with nature’s rhythms, and consider testing your vitamin D levels to make sure your body is in the correct range receiving the full benefits of vitamin D without the risks. So, my best advice to you is to seek out your local naturopathic doctor – he or she is trained in evidence based natural medicine and practices individualized, patient-centered care tailoring their approach specifically to you.
Dr. Nicholas Anhorn, BSc, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and is currently accepting new patients at the Moncton Naturopathic Medical Clinic located at 12 Fifth Street in Moncton (382-1329). Dr. Anhorn provides professional and personalized health care for the whole family. In addition to family medicine, he also has a special interest and advanced training in helping patients with pain management, detoxification and cancer. Additional information can be found on www.monctonnaturopathic.com.
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