Saturday, January 30, 2010

Today's Miracle Pill... Bet You Can't Guess What It Is.

If I had a dollar for every time someone ask me if there was ONE pill that could cure everything I'd be a very rich and happy retired pharmacist sipping my umbrella drink on a tropical island right now. Of course there is no such thing as a miracle pill but the latest evidence based medicine would suggest there is a pill that comes close. In fact this pill is really, really inexpensive and readily available to anyone who wants it. I bet you anything you'd never guess what it is. You want to take a stab at this one?

The answer is vitamin D and no I'm not kidding. I feel so strongly about the overwhelming evidence that vitamin D has on us that I couldn't keep it a secret any longer. So let's get down to business!

Vitamin D comes in a few different forms. The most common forms are Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Cholecalciferol is the natural form of vitamin D found in the human body and is the preferred product when taking supplemental vitamin D. You can read more about the different vitamin D forms here - Vitamin D pharmacology. Many people get vitamin D naturally from the sunlight which their skin converts to cholecalciferol in the body. But vitamin D can also be obtained in the diet although in small quantities that fall short of your daily needs.

So will taking vitamin D cure everything and prevent 100% of any human ailment? Of course not and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for me or anybody else to tell you this. But will vitamin D drastically improve your long term health? Absolutely without question! Adequate vitamin D levels have been proven through evidenced based medicine to improve your chances against heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, gout, and the list goes on and on. Dr. Frank Lipman wrote an excellent article detailing many of the important aspects of vitamin D titled Vitamin D:What You Need to Know.

Dr. Soram Khalsa recently wrote an article about how studies have shown that adequate vitamin D supplementation reduced breast cancer risk by as much as 50-60%. Now find me a prescription medication that can do this. You can read the full article titled Breast Cancer, Integrative Medicine, and Vitamin D for more information.

Life Extension recently published a comprehensive article on vitamin D in which they studied the results of over 13,000 patients who supplemented with vitamin D and routinely checked their vitamin D levels. They found that inadequate vitamin D levels were found in approximately 85% of these patients. They also noted that vitamin A, often found in many multivitamins in the retinol form (not the beta-carotene form), actually works against vitamin D and it's positive health benefits. They recommend that your multivitamin has no more than 1,000 units of vitamin A in it for this reason. I would encourage you to read their article titled Startling Findings About Vitamin D Levels in Life Extension Members.

What is considered a "good" vitamin D level? First off, the most accurate vitamin D test to have done is the 25-hydroxyvitamin D level which is also known as 25(OH)D level. Your doctor can order this test if you ask. After reviewing multiple articles on vitamin D supplementation I've found that the experts deem a 25(OH)D level of 50 ng/ml the minimum level to adequately prevent the many chronic illnesses that can affect us. NOTE: You need to know your number!! Many labs and even physicians might tell you that you are fine and that you have a "normal" vitamin D level but many of them are also considering a level of 30 ng/ml or above a "normal" level even though the latest scientific literature convincingly proves otherwise.

Can you have too high of a vitamin D level? Vitamin D toxicity is almost non-existent in the documented literature but there seems to be a lot of misinformation and fear among patients and health care practitioners that this is not the case. Please read the Vitamin D Council's page on toxicity here - The Truth About Vitamin D Toxicity.

You're probably asking how much vitamin D should I take? That's a great question and varies depending on each individual. The elderly and individuals with darker skin tones do not readily convert as much sunlight to vitamin D as most others. You may also need more vitamin D if you don't spend much time outside in the sun or are in a northern climate which keeps you inside more than your southern neighbors. As a general rule most people need at least 4,000 units of cholecalciferol per day and some may need up to 10,000 units per day. Before you go and start taking a vitamin D supplement I recommend that you talk to your physician about it and get a vitamin D level done. That way you can individualize your dose with your physician's help to best meet your health needs. Another note for those who have the following conditions you need to talk to your doctor before starting Vitamin D therapy - sarcoidosis, severe kidney disease, primary hyperparathyroidism, and any condition that has resulted in an elevated calcium blood level.

Vitamin D has really come into the spot light over the past few years and more research is being done as we speak to try and determine how and why it works like it does in the human body. But there is just too much proven scientific evidence on the health benefits of vitamin D to ignore in my opinion. As a pharmacist I'm always searching for the safest and most effective way to produce positive health outcomes and to prevent disease in people. And even though prescription drugs have their place in treating patients I would much rather see all of you out there take proactive steps to delay the day that you have to start on the powerful drugs that I work with every day. My goal is to see all of us take steps to prevent the chronic diseases that plague most Americans by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking a minimum amount of necessary supplements. And if you choose only one supplement to take I highly recommend that it be vitamin D (cholecalciferol). It's your life and your health and I think you deserve to be the best that you can be. With your physician's help you can make great strides in achieving optimal health. Now go out there and educate yourself and take control of your own destiny!