Imagine a wonder drug that could reduce your risk of developing arthritis, high blood pressure, many common cancers, diabetes, depression and heart disease. What would it be worth?
If drug companies could patent such a miracle medicine they might well charge $5 a pill. But you can get these benefits for free.
Vitamin D does all this and probably much more. Your body makes it when skin is exposed to sunshine.
In just the last several weeks there have been reports in major medical journals about the varied benefits of vitamin D. Researchers have found that serious health consequences are more likely when people have low levels of vitamin D in their bodies.
Harvard scientists examined their data from 18, 225 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They found that those considered deficient in vitamin D, at or below 15 nanograms/milliliter, were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as those who had adequate blood levels of 30 ng/ml or higher (Archives of Internal Medicine, June 9, 2008).
Scientists have found that higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with reduced rates of type 1 diabetes. This metabolic disease, also known as early onset or juvenile diabetes, occurs when the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (Diabetologia, online, June 5, 2008).
In addition, people with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to a painful complication called peripheral neuropathy when they are low in vitamin D. Australian researchers have found that the condition improves by about 40 percent when low vitamin D levels are corrected (Archives of Internal Medicine, April 14, 2008).
Another painful condition associated with inadequate vitamin D is peripheral artery disease, which makes walking difficult and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, April, 2008).
Scientists reported at this year’s meetings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology that women who are deficient in vitamin D at the time of diagnosis with breast cancer are more likely to die than women with adequate levels. This is not the first time that lower vitamin D levels have been linked to cancer. Prostate, breast, colon, lung and ovarian cancers are less common in people who get regular sun exposure.
Increasingly, however, investigators find that Americans are not getting very much sun. In one study of seniors, over half the women and 40 percent of the men had low levels of vitamin D (Archives of General Psychiatry, May, 2008). At the other end of the age spectrum, 12 percent of apparently healthy babies and toddlers in Boston were deficient in vitamin D, and 40 percent had less than optimal blood levels (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, June, 2008).
Anyone who would like to know more about the best levels to achieve the health benefits of vitamin D may be interested in a one-hour radio interview with experts Drs. James Dowd and Michael Holick.