From Lauren: Today’s post comes from Kristin Savory, a licensed acupuncturist, who recently discussed the difference between food based and synthetic supplements on Empowered Sustenance. Like Kristin, I believe that vitamin D is better absorbed when it comes in a biodynamic food source, which is why I supplement with fermented cod liver oil (a supplement that Kristin discusses in this post). Another source that may be helpful to you as you consider vitamin D supplementation is Chris Kresser’s discussion on vitamin D here. He touches on the research suggesting that the optimal vitamin D level might be much lower than is currently recommended.
Seems like everyone is shouting about the benefits of vitamin D these days.
A lot of people are testing low for it, smart docs are recommending it and even more folks are taking high-dose vitamin D therapies on a regular basis.
High-dose vitamin D therapy might feel good in the short term. You might experience an increase in energy or a shift in your mood. Maybe you’ll feel a little stronger, or even more resilient.
Most people feel better with high dose therapies in the short run because of severe deficiencies in our diets and lifestyles.
But is the high- dose vitamin D you’re taking working well for your body?
Problems with Synthetic Vitamin D Supplementation
Over the long haul, dosing with a synthetic nutrient- in particular vitamin D- may have unwanted consequences (read more about the differences between whole foods and synthetic supplements here.)
When considering supplementation, it is wise to understand a few critical points about vitamin D.
- The RDA for vitamin D is between 200 and 400iu. Doses of 50,000iu can be toxic. These days, it is common practice for professionals to recommend 4,000- 10,000iu units on a regular basis. Now, I’m not one to throw around RDAs because those numbers generally reflect isolated compounds. But when it comes to the miracles of vitamin D, more is definitely not better because of factor number 2.
- Your body stores vitamin D. You’ve got a smart body, yes, you do. You can make this nutrient in the sun and you can also get some D’s from food. Yet, your body “knows” that vitamin D is not always readily available due to cloudy days or a deficient diet. To even things out, your body stores vitamin D in fatty tissues like your liver, skin, brain and bones [note…vitamin D is not stored in blood]. That’s good news if you’re getting your D from food sources, but if you’re taking high doses of D that means you’re at risk for toxicity over time.
- Vitamin D does not work alone. In foods, nutrients work synergistically and vitamin D is no stranger to this kind of partnering. Foods that are high in vitamin D often contain vitamin A and lots of essential fatty acids. All of these nutrients work together to get your D’s to work more effectively. To read more about how vitamin D and A function together read this article by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and this article by Chris Masterjohn.
Vitamin D toxicity is nothing to joke about.
Vitamin D is a big helper in calcium absorption and metabolism, so it goes to follow that too much vitamin D often leads to symptoms involving too much calcium. Symptoms can include, nausea, loss of appetite, headache, kidney stones, calcium deposits in the soft tissue (i.e. kidneys, heart, and lung), as well as hypercalcemia. [Hypercalcemia is a fancy word for too much calcium in the blood, which can put unnecessary strain on the kidneys.
Because vitamin D is stored in fat, toxicity is going to vary from person to person. Unfortunately, young kiddos and babies are most at risk.
Research has indicated that your body reacts differently to synthetic and food sources of vitamin D. According to Judith DeCava, CNC, LNC, author of The Real Truth About Vitamins and Antioxidants:
One of the effects associated with taking excessive amounts of the chemically isolated, synthetic vitamin D is high blood pressure. Yet studies with cod liver oil, a source of natural vitamin-D complex, report a reduction in blood pressure if previously elevated.
After comparing synthetic and natural sources of D, researchers-Barnes, Brady and James- have concluded: “It would seem that we are not justified in considering rat units of vitamin D in irradiated ergosterol [a synthetic form of vitamin D] as being equivalent to the same number of rat units of vitamin D in cod liver oil [a natural source] as a curative or prophylactic remedy for rickets.”
Food-Based Vitamin D Supplementation
Does this mean that you should ditch vitamin D?
Heck no, D is critical for mineral metabolism, bone growth, proper cell permeability, and a healthy nervous system. And, as it turns out, vitamin D may also have a critical role in hormone production through the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Instead of relying on a high-dose vitamin D therapy, consider siding with Mother Nature and get your D’s in with these 3 low-cost alternatives:
- Eat foods high in vitamin D: Our bodies can’t make vitamin D on it’s own, but we can get significant amounts from our food. Higher levels of vitamin D are found in fish, butter, cheese, pastured lard, liver and pastured eggs. Fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, rank the highest in vitamin D.
- Take a break in the sun: A young, healthy body can make up to 10,000iu of vitamin D in one day of sun exposure. For most of us, plenty is made within 10 minutes of sitting in the sun on a daily basis. Skip the sunscreen, peel off the sunglasses, and give yourself the gift of 10 glorious minutes of vitamin D therapy in the sun. [Note: Depending on age, angle of the sun, and tissue health the amount of vit D made from sun bathing can vary. Always pair a sun break with other food sources of vitamin D.]
- Supplement with cod liver oil: If you’re still not convinced on the amount of D that you’re getting in any one day, cod liver oil might be your best bet to cover your bases. Look for an oil that is not tampered with or processed with peroxides, with a ratio of 10:1 vitamin A to D. You can find a high-quality, fermented cod liver oil here. Follow the dosage on the bottle or consider these recommendations.
When making changes in how we think about a particular supplement (especially one that is touted as often as vitamin D), it can be helpful to seek inspiration and reassurance. Weston A. Price, DDS, author of the revolutionary book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration wrote:
“Nature has been making normal birds, butterflies, and animals for millions of years. If wild animals can do it why cannot we? Is it because they, by their instinct, select the right foods and do not meddle with Nature’s foods by changing them?”
Switching the high-dose Vit D to low-dose-but-works-like-a-charm cod liver oil may not seem like a big deal, but your body undoubtedly knows the difference.
Now, I’ve got a question for you. I want to hear your story. How do you get vitamin D? Have you been taking a high-dose supplement or are you already a fan of natural sources?
Sources:DeCava,CNC, LNC , The Real Truth About Vitamins and Anti-oxidants, pp. 97-106. D.R. Fraser, “Vitamin D,” The Lancet, Vol. 345, No.8942, (14 January 1995), pp.192-198. D.J. Barnes, M.J. Brady, and E.W. James, “Comparative Value on Irradiated Ergosterol and Cod Liver Oil as a Prophylactic Antirachitic Agent When Given in Equivalent Dosage According t the Rat Unit of Vitamin D,” American Jounal of Diseases in Children, Vol.39, (1930), p.45. R.A. Buist, “Vitamin Toxicities, Side Effects and Contraindications, “International Clinical Nutrition Review, Vol. 4, No.4, (1984), pp.159-171.
About the author: Kristin Savory
Kristin Savory, LAc, helps women heal their thyroids and balance their hormones so they can live their most vibrant lives. She does this naturally through acupuncture and the wisdom of whole-food nutrition. Hop on her newsletter by clicking here and find delicious Recipes to Heal Your Thyroid and learn the first steps towards Balancing Your Hormones Naturally at www.kristinsavory.com