Vitamin D is one of the many essential nutrients that our bodies need in order to function properly, and studies show that Canadians just don’t get enough of it!! So how much do we really need and exactly what will it do for us? Can we take too much? Will it decrease our risks of getting cancer? So many questions, and still, the answers remain uncertain. We do know one thing for certain. Vitamin D appears to be one of the most promising natural substances currently being studied in the prevention of the most common diseases of our time. The U.S National Cancer Institute is currently conducting a 20 million dollar study involving 20,000 patients in Vitamin D research and we are all eagerly awaiting their findings.
Exactly how much vitamin D we need is very controversial. The most recent studies indicate that 2000 IU daily is an optimum amount, yet many researchers believe that up to 10,000 IU would be even better, while more conservative bodies suggest that 400 IU is sufficient. As for me and my family, every morning with breakfast we take 2 vitamin D drops (2000 IU) on a piece of fruit. I should point out that in liquid form it is tasteless and can therefore be dropped onto anything.
We are able to produce vitamin D by:
A: exposing our skin to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays
B: consuming fatty fish (salmon, tuna,sardines), eggs, and beef or fish liver.
Both of these sources of the vitamin are problematic.
A: 20 minutes of full body exposure to sun would give us 10,000 IU, however this rarely happens because;
1)the sunscreen we all use to prevent skin cancer also prevents the ultraviolet B rays’ ability to produce the vitamin D
2)how much sun exposure do we actually get on a daily basis given our busy lives?
3)when we do get sun exposure, how often do we expose our full bodies as opposed to just our arms and faces?
4)how many sunny days do Canadians actually get between October and May?
5)dark-skinned people absorb less than half the amount of ultraviolet B rays as do fair-skinned people.
B: If we consider that a serving of salmon contains 350 IU, 2 eggs contain 60 IU, and a glass of milk which is fortified with vitamin D contains 100 IU, it becomes evident that we simply can’t get enough vitamin D by diet alone.
It seems quite clear that supplements of vitamin D are essential if we are looking for optimal health and longevity. We must consider however that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin unlike vitamin C which is water soluble. An overdose of vitamin C is not dangerous because any excess leaves the body along with the urine. Vitamin D however is toxic in high doses and overdose is a possibility. Excessive intake of vitamin D can also promote formation of kidney stones. So how much is safe? The answer is that nobody knows for sure. That is why the recommended levels of vitamin D intake by the governments of Canada and the United States which was set in 1997, remain so low.
age 31 - 50 200 IU daily
age 51-70 400 IU daily
age > 70 600 IU daily
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 1000 IU daily for adults
Osteoporosis Canada recommends 1000 IU daily for adults under the age of 50
and 2000 IU daily for adults over the age of 50
Many prominent researchers and oncologists recommend significantly higher levels.
We know for certain that vitamin D is critical in controlling and regulating cell growth and development. It is this effect on our cells that has led to so much media exposure, and as a result, the creation of urban myths and conflicting reports. Many of us are taking vitamin D supplements because we want to believe that it will decrease our risks in developing breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Laboratory, animal, and epidemiological evidence does suggest that vitamin D does regulate cell growth and differentiation in many cells including cancer cells, and in this way it is thought to give us some protection against cancer.
There are studies that suggest a relationship between vitamin D and its ability to:
1.decrease the risk of colon cancer by 50%
2.control the growth of existing prostate tumours
3.decrease the risk of breast cancer by 30%
4.decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer by 43%
We also know that low levels of vitamin D are associated with:
1.poorer prognosis, more aggressive tumours, and greater tendency to bone metastases in breast cancer patients
2.increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease
We know for certain that Vitamin D is essential in maintaining healthy bone structure by balancing calcium levels in both bone and blood. Insufficient levels of vitamin D can lead to low bone density and development of osteoporosis. It is this role in bone metabolism that led researchers to investigate the relationship between vitamin D levels and periodontal health, i.e the health of the gum and bone tissue that supports and anchors your teeth. We also know that vitamin D is essential to our bodies’ anti-inflammatory capability. Inflammation is a key component of periodontal disease, therefore adequate vitamin D levels are one of the essential factors in the prevention of this disease.
The National Centre for Health Statistics in the United States conducted a detailed investigation involving 11,000 people and concluded that in men and women over the age of 50, there is significantly less bone loss and less tooth loss in those subjects that had a high level of vitamin D , and they were much less likely to have bleeding gums and gum pockets. They also found that sufficient calcium levels were also essential to periodontal health. For both men and women between ages 31 and 50, 1000 mg daily of calcium are required and 1200 mg daily are required for over 50 years of age. Dairy products are an excellent source of both vitamin D and calcium, and studies have shown a correlation between levels of dairy intake and good periodontal health. A study at Tuft’s University in Boston concluded that those in the study taking a supplement of 700 IU of vitamin D and 1000 mg of calcium for 3 years were half as likely as the others to lose teeth.
In conclusion, scientific evidence supports the following facts:
1)Vitamin D is necessary for maintenance of healthy bones and prevention of osteoporosis
2)There seems to be a correlation between vitamin D levels and incidence of certain cancers, due to this vitamin’s involvement in the regulation of cell growth and differentiation.
3)It has been suggested that there may be a correlation between vitamin D levels and heart disease, altzheimer’s disease and diabetes, but no scientific evidence has yet to support these claims.
4)Along with good oral hygiene and regular dental care, sufficient levels of vitamin D are essential in the maintenance of good periodontal health
5)A combination of sufficient calcium levels, vitamin D levels, and an active lifestyle, will help to promote healthy gums and significantly minimize bleeding gums, gum pockets, bone loss and tooth loss.
6)The amount of vitamin D necessary to achieve its optimal benefits remains controversial, however 2000 IU daily seems to be a reasonable amount given our current knowledge.
7)Overdose of vitamin D is a possibility because unlike vitamin C, excess levels cannot be removed from the body via the urine.
Supplements of vitamin D should be taken because we are unable to produce enough on our own, especially in northern climates. Even when there is sufficient sunlight, with the current usage of sunscreens we are not absorbing enough of the ultraviolet B rays required to produce sufficient amounts of the vitamin. It is difficult to attain adequate vitamin D by dietary intake alone, as there are not many available sources other than fatty fish, liver and fortified dairy products.
Vitamin D is an extremely promising nutrient in its apparent ability to prevent systemic diseases such as osteoporosis, and possibly cancer, diabetes, altzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, although further research is necessary to scientifically prove these claims. There is definitive evidence to link sufficient levels of vitamin D and calcium to the prevention of periodontal disease and to the maintenance of good oral health. So, my advice is simple. Put a bottle of vitamin D drops next to your tooth brush, or next to your morning bowl of fruit. Your body will thank you and so will your teeth!!!
Dr. Brian Kaplansky