That vitamin is vitamin D. I know this because in a recent review of 32 trials with 74,789 patients vitamin D3 (but not Vit D2) significantly reduced the occurrence of death. (Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD007470) In medical terminology the study reported “a significant decrease in all-cause mortality (relative risk [RR] 0.94, 95%CI 0.91-0.98), with an NNT of 161, assuming 10% mortality in controls (level 1 [likely reliable] evidence).”
In this analysis most of the participants were women older than 70 years old. The average treatment duration was 2 years and the reduction in death was mainly attributed to the fact that most patients had low levels of vitamin D.
So what does all this mean? It means that if you are old, debilitated, frail and have low levels of vitamin D you can increase your chances of survival if you restore your surrogate vitamin d blood levels (25ohd) to greater than 20 ng/ml with the use of vitamin D3, but not vitamin D2 or any other form of vitamin D.
Vitamin D3 is available without a prescription, but only your doctor can monitor vitamin D levels with a blood test. You might want to ask her about it even if you are young and healthy. Young people who restore their vitamin D levels report more energy and a happier mood. No wonder vitamin D levels naturally increase when we are exposed to sunshine. Sunshine = higher levels of vitamin D = happier mood.
Vitamin D exists in two major forms in the body: Vitamin D2(ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3(cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is found in fortified foods and OTC supplements. Vitmin D3 is unique in that it can be synthesized in human skin when sunlight changes the chemical bonds of cholesterol into Vitamin D3. But fortunately there is a back-up source of Vitamin D3 and that is food from animal sources like dairy products, meat and eggs. These forms of vitamin D act similarly in the body and require activation by enzymes. The first step of activation occurs in the liver, and the final step occurs in the kidney. Both these organs have to be healthy to have enough vitamin D in your body.
These discoveries are so important that in 2010 the FDA (under the advice of The Institute of Medicine who did all the research for the FDA) increased the minimum recommended daily allowance of Vit D from 400 to 600 IU daily for people aged 51 to 70 years and from 600 to 800 IU daily for those over 70 years old, but not to exceed 4,000 IU daily. Vitamin D at really high doses can cause an imbalance of calcium in the body which can lead to damage of blood vessels and over time can lead to organ damage, particularly kidney damage. So a little big is good, but a lot is not better.
Some people’s bodies make enough vitamin D if they are in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes at least twice a week. People with darker skin or older people may not be able to get enough vit d this way and so it is recommended that they take supplements.
But what I find the most fascinating about vitamin D is that it is actually a pro-hormone or precursor to hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and others. The basic multiple ring structure is the same because they all originate from cholesterol. And apparently some of them can interchange identities which is why body builders who take too much testosterone end up with high levels of estrogen and can develop breasts.
So it looks like vitamin D serves as a back-up hormone, but which hormones can it become? That will have to be another blog. Also in another blog…maybe the next one… I will tell you of a popular dietary supplement that works by the placebo effect according to the research. I will also tell you when I would recommend this supplement, because I would recommend it under the right circumstances. hehehe.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!