Live longer with vitamin D, the ‘double edged sword’
If you’re interested in living longer, healthier and ageing well, then understanding how vitamin D can help or hinder this goal, is essential.
Studies into vitamin D and longevity clearly show a strong link to both a long life and a short life, depending on your vitamin D levels. Interestingly, not only are low vitamin D levels linked to a shorter less healthy life but so are excessively high vitamin D levels.
Cholesterol + Sun = D
Vitamin D is a compound we make ourselves from sunlight by converting cholesterol under the skin into vitamin D3. We can get vitamin D from some foods although this is vitamin D2, which is only a third as potent as D3.
Deficiency vs Insufficiency
Vitamin D deficiency results in a disease called Rickets. Although vitamin D deficiency is uncommon these days, vitamin D ‘insufficiency’ appears to be very common. Insufficiency occurs when your vitamin D levels drop below optimum levels for health.
Many studies have linked low vitamin D levels with:
- Alzheimer’s disease1
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Cognitive impairment
- Type 2 diabetes2
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease13
- Multiple sclerosis14
- Rheumatoid arthritis15
When looking at this extensive list, the question is, how can one vitamin have so much effect on our health? The answer appears to be in our genes.
Each gene makes a protein and each protein is used to assist the many biological processes of the body. In the long-term, some of these processes have a beneficial effect and some have a detrimental effect. Vitamin D is involved in turning on or off over 200 of our genes and so has a direct effect on 1000s of biological processes occurring in our body daily.
You could be forgiven by thinking that just by taking vitamin D supplements you’re helping to avoid the potential diseases listed above.
But the problem is dosage!
Too little…..Too much?
Like most supplements, too little is bad for you and so is too much. There is a ‘sweet spot’. A level at which we can achieve maximum health. So what is that dose?
The experts disagree on dosage with ranges from 40-250 nmol/l (16-100 ng/ml). That’s some range!
How do we solve this? The team at Genetic Health Plan went straight to the source, the studies that compare longevity with vitamin D levels. These studies are called ‘mortality cohort studies’16,17,18 and track very large groups of people over many years monitoring risk of death for groups with different vitamin D levels.
The largest of these studies tracked over 250,000 people for 7 years. Another research paper reviewed smaller studies with a combined 62,000 people. The results of all the studies were fairly consistent. They concluded that those whose vitamin D levels were in the 75-125 nmol/l (30-50 ng/ml) had the lowest risk of mortality and therefore the highest longevity.
Sunblock, Drugs and Genes
The amount of vitamin D we produce depends on a number of factors and can be severely limited by:
- Blocking sunlight to our skin with clothing, glass, sunblock
- Medications – barbiturates, phenobarbital, dilantin, isoniazid and statin drugs
- Gene variations – DHCR7, CYP2R1, GC and VDR (for those of you who have done our DNA test)
Test, Test and Test Again
With so many factors affecting how much vitamin D we have, how do you know if you have the ideal level for optimal health? The answer is a simple blood test. Ask your doctor for a vitamin D test and see where your levels sit. In Australia it is thought that 39nmol/l (15.6ng/ml) is sufficient. As we can see from the studies, this is clearly not the case.
Have a blood test and see how your vitamin D levels compare with the lowest mortality group at 75-125 nmol/l (30-50 ng/ml).
Raise the Levels
If you have low vitamin D blood levels there are 3 ways to raise them: sun; food; and supplements.
More sunlight directly to your skin, without sunblock or clothing will increase your vitamin D levels but this effect is limited by your age, weight, medication and genetic factors. Remember that especially in Australia, unprotected skin with a UV index over 3 may increase your risk of skin cancer.
Foods like fatty fish, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks contain vitamin D2, but remember this is not as potent as vitamin D3.
The easiest way is to supplement with a vitamin D3 capsule. As a rough guide, 1000 IU (25 mcg) vitamin D3 capsule per day increases vitamin D blood levels by 25 nmol/L (10 ng/ml)20.
So the question is, after optimizing your vitamin D levels…..how much longer will you live?
Annweiler C, Rolland Y, Schott AM, et al. Higher vitamin D dietary intake is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 7-year follow-up. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012;67(11):1205-1211.
Heer M, Egert S. Nutrients other than carbohydrates: their effects on glucose homeostasis in humans. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2015;31(1):14-35.
Jones AN, Hansen KE. Recognizing the musculoskeletal manifestations of vitamin D deficiency. J Musculoskelet Med. 2009;26(10):389-396.
Fukumoto S. Phosphate metabolism and vitamin D. Bonekey Rep. 2014;3:497
Holick MF. Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(3):362-371.
Raimondi S, Johansson H, Maisonneuve P, Gandini S. Review and meta-analysis on vitamin D receptor polymorphisms and cancer risk. Carcinogenesis. 2009;30(7):1170-1180. (PubMed)
Gombart AF, Luong QT, Koeffler HP. Vitamin D compounds: activity against microbes and cancer. Anticancer Res. 2006;26(4A):2531-2542. (PubMed)
Thorne J, Campbell MJ. The vitamin D receptor in cancer. Proc Nutr Soc. 2008;67(2):115-127. (PubMed)
Garland CF, Garland FC, Gorham ED. Calcium and vitamin D. Their potential roles in colon and breast cancer prevention. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;889:107-119. (PubMed)
Gandini S, Boniol M, Haukka J, et al. Meta-analysis of observational studies of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and colorectal, breast and prostate cancer and colorectal adenoma. Int J Cancer. 2011;128(6):1414-1424. (PubMed)
Ma Y, Zhang P, Wang F, Yang J, Liu Z, Qin H. Association between vitamin D and risk of colorectal cancer: a systematic review of prospective studies. J Clin Oncol. 2011;29(28):3775-3782. (PubMed)
Touvier M, Chan DS, Lau R, et al. Meta-analyses of vitamin D intake, 25-hydroxyvitamin D status, vitamin D receptor polymorphisms, and colorectal cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20(5):1003-1016.
Wang TJ, Pencina MJ, Booth SL, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008;117(4):503-511.
Goodin DS. The epidemiology of multiple sclerosis: insights to disease pathogenesis. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;122:231-266.
Mosaad YM, Hammad EM, Fawzy Z, et al. Vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism as possible risk factor in rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid related osteoporosis. Hum Immunol. 2014;75(5):452-461.
Durup D, et al., “A Reversed J-Shaped Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxvitamin D and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: The CopD Study,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2015 Jun;100(6):2339-46. doi: 10.1210/jc.2014-4551, Epub 2015 Feb 24.
Zitterman, A, et al., “Vitamin D deficiency and mortality risk in the general population: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies 1,2,3,4,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2012
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Melamed, ML, et al., “25 hydroxyl vitamin D levels and The Risk of Mortality in the General Population,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2008 Aug 11: 168(15): 1629-1637, doi: 10.1001/archinte. 168.15.1629.
Wortsman J, Matsuoka L, Chen T, et al., “Decreased bioavailability of vitamin D in obesity,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2000, vol. 72 no. 3 690-693.
Cranney C, et al., “Effectiveness and safety of vitamin D,” Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 158 prepared by the University of Ottawa Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-02.0021. AHRQ Publication No. 07-E013. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2007.