Flip Flop…Scientific Studies and Finding a Rock to Stand On

Yesterday I received a copy of a New York Times article from my good friend Emily. The article was about new research that had just come out saying that most people DON’T need extra vitamin D or calcium. Her end comment was, “When will they make up their minds?”

Her comment relays the frustration and confusion that the seemingly constant “flip flopping” of the scientific community causes the rest of us. I really believe that people want to take charge of their own health, but find it hard because they never feel like they have solid ground to stand on when this kind of see saw activity goes on.

So I’ll tell you my take on this. And really, it’s based on common sense and a firm belief that we need to look to the past to get our footing or find our “rock” to stand on.

Back Up

I wrote an exhaustive post on Vitamin D in October ( An Important Player in Your Health Arsenal)…. I spent days on it, because I thought it was important.

However, a brief reminder: the “natural” way that we have always gotten our vitamin D is from the sun and from animal products. The short story… the sun’s rays hit our skin and convert the cholesterol in our skin to vitamin D.

OK. That’s how our ancestors got it. For a long, LONG time! (along with eating oily fish such as fish liver, mackerel, sardines, & salmon, and to a lesser degree, beef liver, egg yolks, and butter).

The “Sun?” You Ask.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you were confused, because what have we been told and warned about for the past 50 years? The sun, and how it’s so important to stay out of the sun and not get sunburned. And you know what? That’s good advice. We shouldn’t get sunburned.

Our Ancestors

Again, I’ll go back to the past. All any of us has to do to realize that getting the proper amount of sunlight is vitally important to us is to look at how we evolved.

Our ancestors who lived in areas which geographically caused them to be exposed to higher levels of the sun’s rays developed dark skin to protect them from the sun’s harmful radiation. Conversely, our ancestors who lived in areas which didn’t allow for as much sun exposure developed light skin so that more of the sun’s rays could be absorbed into the body to make vitamin D.

Does anyone think that was mere coincidence? I hope not.

That process had to take a long time, and the people who were better adapted to their geography were the ones who survived and proliferated.

That’s a pretty graphic example of just how important getting the right level of sunshine is to our survival.

Fast Forward

But now we’re here in 2010. Many of us don’t go out in the sun. We sit behind tinted windows. We stay inside. We slather sunscreen on ourselves when we do go outside. To make up for lack of adequate sun exposure, we fortify our milk, our cereals and our orange juice. A logical, prudent attempt.

But What If ?

You don’t drink milk; don’t eat a lot of cereal; and don’t drink orange juice?

I don’t happen to believe that milk is the miracle food many do (particularly the mass produced ultra pasteurized milk of today); I don’t think processed, boxed cereals are all that hot; and, I think that drinking a glass of OJ sends your blood sugar through the roof… unless it’s a small one and consumed with proteins and fat to slow the absorption of the sugar in the juice.

My Fate

So a person like me, with fair skin, living in the northern latitudes, who stays out of the sun and doesn’t eat fortified food? Logically? My ancestors would probably have pushed me to the side and left me to die… or force fed me salmon (which would be fine by me).

Think About It

With all the “sun is bad” hype, is it possible we’ve interfered too much with what has been a natural process that we developed thousands and thousands of years ago? I think the answer is yes.

On the other hand, we all know there’s evidence that depleted ozone in the atmosphere allows higher levels of radiation to hit our skin than our ancestors had to deal with. So is extra care prudent? Again, yes.

But we still can’t ignore the magnificent example of evolution in the color of our skin and what it says about our need to get sunlight, while still needing protection from too much.

Tons of recent research has identified receptor sites for vitamin D all over our bodies. Even in the brain. Again, looking to evolution, why would there be so many receptor sites for it if we didn’t need it? That’s looking a lot like the skin color thing. Obviously, we NEED it!

SO….. What is my final answer?

People do need vitamin D, preferably from the sun and some animal foods like cold water fish.  All of us should be very careful of too much sun… we don’t even need to allow ourselves to get pink, and certainly, never red. People with dark skin need to stay out in the sun for longer periods of time to make adequate amounts of vitamin D… but again, should not burn. People with skin cancer have different protocols they need to follow.

Supplemental D? I think it has great value. But I don’t think people should just decide on their own that they need it and start taking lots of Vitamin D for long periods of time! They should get tested and they should strive to, at the very least, get their levels above 30. In everything I’ve read (in addition to the NY Times article), 30 ng/mL is the cut off for OK and not OK. Many sources say to get your level up to 75 or 80. I’m happy with mine at 59.

So, Emily… thanks again for the article and hope this makes sense to you! xo

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3 Responses to Flip Flop…Scientific Studies and Finding a Rock to Stand On

  1. Niki says:

    If the sun hits our skin and turns cholesterol to Vitamin D, does not getting sun to convert cholesterol give us elevated cholesterol?

  2. I’m going to write a post on cholesterol sometime. It’s a biggie and I need to do it. However, it’s going to be another honker and will take me days to write. This is another area where we have been told “cholesterol is BAD”. Really?

    I’d believed that hype for so long that I was shocked in my classes to find out that your body makes cholesterol, and if you stop eating cholesterol rich food, your body amps up and makes more to compensate. It’s a far more complicated picture than the simplistic one we’ve been listening to.

    But re your question…. I don’t know the mechanism (maybe I’ll find out when I write my article), but what I do know is this: when the body stores enough vitamin D, the process shuts down until it needs more. So I’m guessing that would keep the cholesterol issue in check too.

  3. I probably should have made clear that our body stops converting cholesterol in our skin to vitamin D once we’ve stored enough, “when we’re getting it from the sun”.

    If we’re getting it by eating it (fish, fortified foods and supplements), it’s possible to store too much vitamin D, which can cause health issues.

    That’s why you either need to do it the “natural way” through careful sun exposure; or, you should get your blood levels checked and supplement as necessary.

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