Why does it feel so good to look up to the sky and feel the sun shining warmly against our face? Unbeknownst to us, a highly sophisticated transformation is taking place in the deepest two layers of our five layers of our skin. This wonderful feeling comes from the action of ultraviolet rays turning pre-vitamin D3 into vitamin D3. Our ability to turn sunshine into something we need is something we have in common with most other vertebrate animals (animals with spines.) Ever notice animals instinctively snoozing in the sun whenever they have the chance? And so it should be with us not just those who want a tan.

Enjoying the feeling we get from being in the sun when our bodies so desperately need it is an example of how our instincts can keep us healthy - when we pay attention, that is. The vitamin D3 we manufacture from being in the sun is both a vitamin (an organic compound which is required as a nutrient in small amounts), and a hormone (a chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs). Although vitamin D was first described in 1923 in relationship to sunlight, it wasn't until the 1930's that its chemical structures were fully known. Even then, the full benefits of vitamin D were not understood.

News about vitamin D has recently been creating a stir. In addition to supplementation of vitamin D for Osteoporosis and calcium balance for bone regeneration, it's also recommended to help regulate blood pressure, assist with diabetes, improve immunity, and as a cancer protective supplement. Those who promote the use of whole food supplementation, even those in the medical profession, are beginning to recommend higher levels of vitamin D. (In this article, vitamin D refers to vitamin D3.)

A 2005 meta-study shows that vitamin D is beneficial for mineralization and remodeling bone with calcium and phosphorus, preventing rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults. It has been found to prevent muscle spasms, modulate neuromuscular and immune function, and reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and dermatological conditions. Vitamin D reduces the risk for many types of cancers including colon by 50%, breast and ovarian by 30%, and colorectal cancer by 72%. A 2006 study shows that it reduces the risk for pancreatic cancer by 43%. A 2007 randomized intervention study involving 1200 women taking 1,100 IU's per day of vitamin D resulted in 60% reduction in cancer for four years, and a 77% reduction when excluding those who had cancer prior to the start of the study.

Studies show that vitamin D helps protect against cancers of the prostate, breast, myelodysplasia, leukemia, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Vitamin D helps protect against central nervous system diseases, multiple sclerosis, organ transplant rejection, Type 1 Diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Supplementation during pregnancy may prevent MS later in life. It also helps prevent cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, peripheral artery disease, as well as other age related diseases. Benefits include the reduction of chronic pain, seasonal affected disorder (SAD), cognitive impairment, memory loss, brain fog, and musculoskeletal pain.

Pre-vitamin D is produced in the layers of the skin and converted by ultraviolet light from the sun or other sources into vitamin D. It can also be obtained from specific foods, and then converted in the liver and kidney to dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form of vitamin D which is also known as Calcitriol. Calcitriol hitches a ride through the bloodstream to various target organs, eventually influencing the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines and the maintenance of calcium and phosphorus in the blood by bone, kidney, and parathyroid gland. Here we see vitamin D influencing the growth and differentiation of cells in the body. Vitamin D helps enhance the action of several types of white blood cells in your immune system.

The easiest way to obtain vitamin D is from the sun. Not only that, it's free! 20 to 30 minutes in the summertime sun (for a fair skinned person) produces approximately 10,000 IU's of vitamin D - 50 times greater than the US government's recommendations of 200IU/day, which has been found to be too low. (www.vitamincouncil.org) The darker a person's skin, the more time in the sun is required. Those who live above the 35th parallel (anywhere above the level of Atlanta, Georgia) won't get enough sun from November to February for adequate vitamin D levels. Additional vitamin D will have to be obtained from food or supplements. Although I do not recommend the consumption of pasteurized milk, it's interesting to note that it would take 100 glasses of vitamin D fortified milk to reach 10,000 IU's. The best natural food source for vitamin D is cold-water ocean fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil.

The vast majority of people are highly deficient in vitamin D, in part due to the use of sunscreens. Although vitamin D plays a major role in preventing cancer, overexposure to the sun may outweigh the benefits. The best option is to get the proper amount of sunshine and consume plenty of free fatty acids such as real, organic butter and Omega 3 fish oils so that your calcium and phosphorus can transfer from your bloodstream to your body's tissues where they are needed. Also, be sure to have adequate levels of the supportive vitamins and minerals needed for proper vitamin D absorption, such as magnesium, zinc, vitamin K2, boron, and vitamin A. To find out if you have a vitamin D deficiency, you should consider having your blood levels tested. It should be 50 to 80 ng/mL some sources say 100 to 150ng/mL. Most people have levels less than 20ng/mL. There is a simple, home test kit available. On March 24th, I will be speaking about vitamin D on behalf of The Foundation for Wellness Professionals - a free workshop on the benefits and proper use of vitamin D. Call 734-425-8220 for more information. Please work with a health care professional that understands vitamin D before supplementing on your own.