Vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin" History, benefits, deficiencies, risk factors, facts, & testing - everything you need to know when living in the northern hemisphere!
Here in the northern hemisphere, as the summer months are ending, it is a good time to look at our vitamin D levels to see if they have reached adequate enough levels to carry us through the winter.
You may ask why is this important and the answer is seen in epidemiology studies that show the farther south you go the less risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes type I & II, autoimmune conditions, MS, dementia, depression, alzheimers, parkinsons, almost all types of cancer (except skin, which is easily treatable), osteopenia, osteoporosis, rickets, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases such as crohn's and colitis, and less incidence of pregnancy complications such as C-sections and pre-eclampsia. One of the known ways that vitamin D supports the immune system is through macrophages and monocytes. Theses cells scan the body for pathogens and as they come into contact with one they send a signal to numerous cells in the body to active the pre-vitamin D stored in the body triggering the release of cathelicidin and the destruction of the pathogen (1).
Before I go any farther lets look at the history of vitamin D:
It first began billions of years ago via a photochemical reaction creating an inert molecule to help protect from ultraviolet damage in early organisms called phytoplankton and zooplankton. Later it was incorporated in plants, and vertebrates to help give strength and structure form birth to death. Any organism exposed to sunshine can make pre-vitamin D, which once activated acts in the intestines to help the body absorb more calcium (1).
The first human record of vitamin D was during the industrial revolution in the 1600's at west and south England where many children, especially those growing up in cities were developing a condition called Rickets (weak, soft, and deformed bones in children due to a lack of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorous). These children were exposed to less sunshine do to the geographical location, but when combined with tall buildings being built close to one another and a coal polluted sky they were exposed to even less sunshine and as a result less vitamin D. It took ~30 years until Doctors found that shining light on just one part of the body resulted in complete reversal of the disease and in 1903 FInsen received the nobel prize for finding treating skin conditions associate with TB to light showing dramatic improvements increasing solariums and heliotherapy across Europe. To teat the deficiency, in the 1930's everything was fortified with vitamin D - not just all milk and dairy (although the dairy industry fully embraced it) - it could be found in beer, pop, custard, hot dogs, soap, and even shaving cream! (1).
This completely eradicated Rickets; however, it created another problem associated with high calcium such as children with a condition called Williams syndrome, a genetic condition with excess calcium absorption resulting in facial abnormalities such as broad foreheads, flat nasal bridges, upturned noses, full wide mouths, irregular teeth, heart problems, and mental difficulties (2). However, at the time Doctors did not know that it was a genetic condition with hypersensitivity to vitamin D. As such, vitamin D paranoia swept across Europe banning it in everything excluding a few products such as margarine and cereals.
Despite the use of light therapy at the turn of the 20th century it was estimated that 80-90% of children born in London had Rickets whereas it was an unseen disease in children who grew up in India or China.
-In 1916 Hoffman showed that people living at a higher latitude had a higher risk for cancer here mortality rates increased with increasing distance from the equator (3).
-In 1937 Peller and Stephenson looked at cancer rates in navy personnel who are exposed to UV radiation while at sea and found that the rate of skin cancer was 8x greater; however the total number of deaths from other cancers was 60% less than the civilian population (4).
-This was again shown in 1941 where Apperly compared cancer rates of farmers in the Northeast US to farmers in the southern US and found higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancer (which is easy to detect and treat) and a much lower rate of other cancers (5.)
-more studies were done 40 years later where colon cancer mortalitry rate again directly reduced the farther south you went (1).
-a multitude of studies were done showing reduced risks for ovarian cancer, breast cancer, cancers of the digestive tract, prostate cancer, bladder, cervical endometrial, vulvar, lung, pancreatic, Hodgkins, and non-Hodgkins lymphomas (1).
-further studies showed that the more exposure to sunlight you had as a teenager the reduced risk of breast cancers at a later age up to 60% (6.)
-Likewise, if a teenager had lymphoma the risk of mortailty reduced after they had more exposure to sunshine (7).
-The US preventative Services Task force showed that for every 4 points increase in vitamin D levels a resulting 6% drop in colorectal cancer risk (8).
-Study after study continues to show the reduced risks and infectious diseases associated with higher vitamin D levels and more sunshine exposure.
The map below shows the cancer belt and anyone living above the red line has an increased risk for developing cancer & autoimmune disease:
Now lets look at factors affecting sunshine's ability to enter the body:
The sun is made up of ultraviolet A, B, and C light. All the UVC light, and most of the UVB light is absorbed high in the ozone (UVC followed by UVB are the strongest). One percent of UVB makes it though and this is what our bodies use to make pre-vitmain D. The amount of UVB light reaching the northern hemisphere depends on the time of day and the time of year. The farther the light has to travel the less we receive; thus, as the earth tilts its axis away from the sun in the winter months it increases the distance UVB light has to travel (9). Populations living at latitudes greater than 33 degrees will not get any UVB light from November - February (Vancouver is at 49 degrees latitude). The time of day is also important. A calculation using the zenith angle shows that we only receive UVB light between 10am to 3pm each day (1). See the pics below.
Some other factors that will come into play are also the amount of cloud / pollution in the air which can decrease it with thick cloud over, but increase it with patchy cover due to reflections. Altitude also has an effect where the higher up someone is the more UVB light they receive. Lastly, of course clothing will stop UVB light from penetrating the skin (9).
To show how radical of a stance this is they state that "to suggest that one should never be exposed to sunlight because excessive exposure to sunlight is linked to an increase in non-melanoma skin cancer is like suggesting tat because breathing 100% oxygen can cause lung damage and death, that no one should breath an atmosphere that contains 20% oxygen (1).
Today the main controversies are around dosage. They main fear is regarding calcium levels. The belief is that the more vitamin D you take the higher one's calcium levels; however this has being shown again and again that it does not (10) unless one has a hypersensitivity to vitamin D seen in Williams disease and hyperparathyroid conditions. Another controversy is using sunscreen, which has heavy metals in it to help block the suns rays; however, if you remember that what causes cancer is chemical and radiation exposure than this is a very dangerous combo. With that being said a serious burn is not good, so it is a matter of finding a fine balance.
Lastly, is what is the optimal level of vitamin D and what is the best dose. Personally I believe in using a high dose supplementation and light therapy to correct the deficiency as soon as possible while monitoring levels and symptoms though out.
FACTS ABOUT VITAMIN D:
What does a deficiency look like?
First we need to look at one's symptoms (see the infograph below) as well as any diagnosed health conditions. Many people will not show symptoms and this is where a blood test needs to be done. This is crucial to determine a baseline screening for increased risk of developing disease. Second, it is crucial to determine if the amount of supplementation / light therapy is adequate. Other elements to consider are magnesium deficiencies, liver problems, and kidney issues. This requires a visit to your doctor or naturopath. A study conducted by Binkley et al. showed that teenagers living in the tropics who spent > 3 hours a day outside were still vitamin D deficient (~ 50% of the 93 individuals studied (15). This is were magnesium, inflammation, the liver, and the kidneys will come into play and need to be looked at.
A simple blood test can show how high your vitamin D levels currently are; a good time to test is at the end pf summer when they should be the highest and in the spring when they will be at their lowest. Edwards and Reddy estimate that 75% of the population is vitamin D deficient (13).
Below shows the categories of vitamin D levels:
At levels > 250 nmol/L it can actually inhibit your parathyroid gland; thus, the importance of testing.
Do you think you or your family may be vitamin D and / or magnesium deficient? Would you like a blood test find out? Book online for your appointment today!
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
With a traditional German or Ukrainian quality, this is a nice twist on the regular pancake.
Mix all the ingredients together except for the oil and the blueberries. Heat your skillet. Once hot add a touch of the coconut ensuring the entire pan is covered in oil. Add a small amount of batter sprinkling your blueberries on top. Fry each side until golden brown.
Eat and enjoy!
Note: different types of fruit can be used such as mulberries, raspberries, strawberries, saskatoons, banana, apple, etc.
Related to my previous blog post on different diets (if you haven’t read it yet click here) this article is the next best one you will want to read to learn how to create a diet specifically tailored to you, But, before I continue let my give a quick overview on the immune system - bare with me as it is complicated and still being understood.
So the immune system is set up to protect us and when something reaches the blood stream that shouldn’t be there – a toxin, a microbe, a virus, a piece of food that leaked through the gut – the immune system reacts by sending out an antibody or Tcell which then acts to destroy it. This is a great system to have; however, it sometimes overreacts or cross reacts to something similar in the body and this is where we see food allergies, skin reactions, and autoimmune conditions.
Typically, the body reacts in four ways called hypersensitivity reactions.
An example of a Type I is when one gets stung by a bee and goes into anaphylaxis; however, it can also be an allergy appearing as hives or eczema. It involves an IgE antibody binding to a mast or basophil cell and causing it to release large amounts of histamine. IgE can be found in the blood for up to 3 days after exposure, which limits the testing window, which is why when you go to your Dr for a skin scratch test many allergies do not show up.
How do I know if I am having a reaction to the foods I am eating?
~20-30% of the population have a food allergy / sensitivity!
To screen for food allergies, sensitivities, inflammation, and intolerances there are a few options. One is to do a skin scratch test to looking for a type I reactions (if exposed to the allergen within the 3 days previous), an IgG food allergy test (if exposed to the antigen within the past 21 days), a blood test called ANA to screen for an autoimmune condition (T cell reaction). And probably my favorite is a new test called the Mediated Release Test (MRT) which screens for an inflammatory reaction to each food / chemical (this will include a screening to all the hypersenstivity reactions). Lastly, to identify an intolerance one can do a breath test or an intolerance test.
An additional way to determine food allergies is via applied kinesiology!
I came across a scientific journal where the researchers used applied kinesiology to screen for food allergies and were incredibly accurate. They screened 17 individuals ranging in age from 16-74 with numerous health complaints for 21 different allergenic foods. They cross referenced the Applied Kinesiology screening with food allergy testing and got 19/21 correct (90.5%). This is great news as applied kinesiology is much more cost effective compared to private testing. However, one must also be skilled in applied kinesiology; if not, it may be a good idea to consider MRT testing. Check out the scientific journal here: Correlation of Applied Kinesiology Muscle Testing Findings with Serum Immunoglobulin levels for Food Allergies by Walter H. Schmitt and Gerry Leisman.
How does applied kinesiology work?
It was difficult for me to get my head around applied kinesiology until the authors of the paper talked about chemical signals sent to the brain via the saliva. For example, if you were to hold a solution of Ipecac in your mouth a signal is sent to the motor muscles triggering you to vomit; similarly, if you eat a food your body does not agree with a signal is sent to the muscles making them weaker. In the experiment discussed above by Schmitt and Leisman (1994) they asked the patients to put each food into their mouth allowing the saliva to start to digest it and then ran a blood test after as well as the applied kinesiology testing and got accurate results.
Conversely, if someone tastes something that is beneficial the muscles may feel stronger.
How is it done?
According to Walther it is a matter of being consistent, getting a good sense of a relaxed muscle and strong muscle while using the same force and speed. This in itself can be extremely difficult, but also incredibly useful once mastered. So, get practicing or see a practitioner with experience in it! And of course, if you can afford it combine it with MRT testing (done through your local naturopathic doctor) and daily tracking to confirm.
If you have any questions let me know...or better yet book in online!
While in school I learnt about numerous diets and tried more than I can count and what I found is that I could never stay on just one. To be honest it was actually a bit disheartening - starting on one with excitement of higher energy and feeling amazing; however, it always followed with guilt because I couldn't stick to it. I do not think there is one diet for everyone and how could there be as there are so many different variables from genetics, environment influences, drug, toxin, and heavy metal intake, nutrient deficiencies, disease processes, organ damage, stress, stress, and more stress, food allergies, inflammation, warming foods, cooling foods, eating based on season, raw vs cooked, and so on. However, there are guidelines I put together found below.
I believe what it comes down to is basics is lots of fruits and veggies and limited sugar, processed foods, and fried fats.
Also, much of it comes down to trial and error and keeping a detailed record of what you eat each day and any resulting symptoms. This will help determine foods you are reacting to immediately and should give a good deal of information. Now if your digestive symptoms, energy levels, vitality etc. is still not where you want it to be then you may be having a delayed reaction, which can occur up to 3 days after eating the offending food – this makes it super difficult to determine what food(s) to cut out. This is where I would suggest doing an elimination diet – another diet! I know ☹ However, it is a gold standard for determining what you can and cannot eat. It involves eating only one food for ~1 week until your symptoms get better then slowly introducing a new food one at a time and waiting to see if a reaction results. I find it incredibly difficult to do this so the alternative is an expensive private test called MRT, which uses a patented technique measuring your reactivity to a panel of 85-170 different foods and additives. It screens for inflammatory reactions which is different than a typical food allergy panel that looks at IgG reactions (which can be highly variable). With your results you can create a base line eating plan and then slowly introduce one new food at a time and watch for a reaction (similar to an elimination diet, but with more options to start with speeding up the process).
Is it worth it?
I would recommend this to anyone who can afford it - it is preventative medicine as well as a curative. Untreated inflammation is not good - it causes an array of problems down the road including nutrient deficiencies, arthritis, pain, and increases ones risk for cancer. The testing company has a list of conditions that they see the best results including: IBS, crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, GERD, PCOS, eczema, interstitial cystitis, chronic ear infections, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, arthritis, depression, migraines, and ADHD. It involves taking a small blood draw, sending it away and results typically come back within in a week.
Now if you don’t have any of the above listed conditions or digestive concerns then just follow the rules below and you will still be doing yourself a huge service:
Veggies!!! The more colourful the better – this is a great source of antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Try to get different colours and types and change up whether you have them cooked or raw.
Fiber: flax, psyllium, chia, legumes, grains, fruit and veggies. Fiber is food for the bacteria in our intestines, which produce vitamins we need such as B12, B7, B5, K2 and short chain fatty acids helping to heal the gut. Fiber also helps bind toxins and aids its elimination.
Complex carbohydrates / starches: whole grains, legumes, squash, parsnip, plantain, yam, and potatoes – these are all high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber just remember to soak grains and legumes overnight to reduce the amount of phytic acid (a molecule that binds up minerals preventing absorption) . Also keep in mind however that the longer you cook them (the mushier they are) the quicker they will digest with a higher glycemic load and it definitely needs to be eaten in a balanced meal.
Healthy Fats: avocado, flax, olives, sunflowers seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts,
Protein: via legumes and grains along with fish, eggs, grass fed dairy and meats.
Cooking at high heats, especially when cooking fats - you might as well be eating inflammation! Try cooking with water if possible so the temperature never gets above 100 degrees celsius. Use oils with high flash points and buy seeds and nuts that haven't being roasted.
Sugar: especially high fructose corn syrup, which spikes your insulin faster than any other sugar and is considered by many to be toxic. A small amount of honey, maple syrup. zevia or fruits is ok. Only athletes or incredibly active people should be taking in high amounts of sugar regularly.
Artificial flavours and colours (give your liver and your kidneys a break by trying to decrease these extra additives) plus many are neurotoxic.
Genetically Modified foods (see my blog post for why!) - some common geneticall modifed foods includes canola, corn, soy, zucchini, sugar beets - try to buy these ones organic.
White flour - there are so many reasons to avoid flour, some are included in my blog post where I talk about contamination with heavy metals. Gluten also leads to leaky gut by increasing a protein called zonulin as well as causing inflammation.
Top 9 healthy eating tips:
1. Always change up the types of food you are eating…if one night/week you had chickpeas and rice then the next night/week have lentils and buckwheat. Anything you eat every single day you can develop an allergy too, especially proteins.
2. Cook on lower heats or always have water while you are cooking to ensure the temperature never gets above 100 degrees celsius
3. Plan ahead and meal prep; I like to dedicate Sundays for getting my meals all ready for the next week this helps reduce eating out as well as grabbing quick food which are typically processed
4. before eating take a few deep breaths – relax – and slow your mind down then pay attention to each bite, the flavours, textures, and most important your satiety level. It is always surprising when you do this and each bite tastes better and better and you will up so much faster. I have even found that foods I normally crave no longer interest me.
5.. Balance out your meal so all your taste buds are satisfied: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and savory. See my mini infograph here!
6. Aim for ½ your plate to be veggies (eat more raw in the summer and spring and more cooked/lightly steamed in the fall and winter), 1/3 complex carbohydrate or starch and 1/3 protein with each meal (if you had a grain at one meal add a legume with it or have some with your next meal – the protein compliment each other), 1/6 fat at each meal (~ 1-2 tbsp unsaturated fats - liquid at room temp, ½ avocado, or 1 tsp saturated fats – hard at room temp).
See my mini infographic (I like to print these off and hang them on the fridge).
7. Eat smaller meals, have salad before meals, and again try to relax before eating - all help increase acid production needed in the stomach to absorb minerals and break down protein ( I will write an article on this in the future). Everyone loses stomach acid as they age it is inevitable.
8. Fasting ~leave 12 hours between your last meal the night prior and the next day; this is a form of intermittent fasting; so if you have to skip your breakfast I do not mind – just make sure you eat something if you plan on doing an extremely long or intense workout to prevent any hypoglycemic episodes. Also, if you need to eat something in the morning try a bulletproof coffee, ½ an avocado, or a small portion of seeds or nuts - it will keep you in ketogenesis (fat burning and repair mode, including improved insulin sensitivity). Better yet is taking an entire day to 3 days to fast!
9. Lastly., 80% of the time eat healthy and 20% enjoy - eating is one of the biggest indulgence humans share and have prided themselves on for centuries, it is seeped in tradition and culture and part of our major life events. So eat up, be indulgent, and enjoy… just not all the time!
A blog dedicated to reviewing and reporting the basics of healthy living from diets, supplements, botanicals, homeopathics, what science says, what tradition says, and everything in between.