Vitamins C and E have probably been the most popular but now they must share the spotlight with vitamin D.

Health oriented people have long advocated taking nutritional supplements.  Vitamins C and E have probably been the most popular but now they must share the spotlight with vitamin D. 

            We all know that vitamin D is important in calcium absorption which helps the bones to be strong.  However evidence keeps mounting indicating this vitamin, which is best obtained from sunshine, is involved in numerous conditions of health and disease. 

            In addition to protecting the bones and boosting immunity, studies show that vitamin D helps prevent certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and colorectal.  In view of studies done by prominent researchers, it has been determined that women with vitamin D levels above 53ng/ml have half the risk of developing breast cancer as those with 13ng/ml!

            Researcher Sylvia Chistakos, Ph.D., of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has published extensively on the multiple roles of vitamin D, including inhibition of the growth of malignant cells found in breast cancer.  These findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.  Previous research had determined that increased serum levels of vitamin D are associated with an improved prognosis in patients with breast cancer. 

            There is also significant evidence that vitamin D deficiency is a factor in respiratory infections and even in deaths from flu.  If your immune system is strong, you are less likely to get flu (or any other illness) and if you do, you will not be as sick and will recover more quickly.

            Adequate levels of vitamin D have been implicated not only in boosting immunity, recent studies show that it may be effective in reducing the risk of developing multiple sclerosis, maintaining brain health, creating healthy body weight, reducing the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms, reducing the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women, protects against damage from low levels of radiation, helps in recovery from tuberculosis.   Vitamin D deficiency was found to be prevalent in cancer patients regardless of nutritional status in a study carried out by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Most of us spend more time inside than out in the sun and we have been scared into using sun blockers to prevent skin cancer.  Sun blockers keep the skin from producing vitamin D so in the long run they may be creating other types of cancer.  It is clear that we need to be looking at our vitamin D levels.  More doctors have become aware of the need for vitamin D but you may have to be aggressive and ask for the test you need. 

            No one understands all about vitamin D; however, it is fat soluble and therefore, and should be taken with a meal that contains fat for best absorption. It  is stored in the body.  Because it can become toxic, tests need to be run if you take a high dose in supplement form.  You need to be informed and ask your doctor for the accurate test.  Many physicians are now including this test in routine blood tests and insurance companies are beginning to pay for it.

            The accurate test you need to determine your vitamin D level is the 25(OH)D test, NOT the 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D.  The later test does not provide useful information about vitamin D.  It measures the most potent steroid in the body, calcitriol, and it is an adaptive hormone that goes up and down with calcium intake.  If this test is taken, you may be told your vitamin D level is adequate when it is not.  Furthermore, many doctors who see a 25(OH)D (the accurate test) will tell you that a level of 30ng/ml is fine.  A level at or above 50ng/ml is optimum and up to 100ng/ml is okay.  Be sure and ask your doctor for the 25(OH)D test or you can order a home test at the vitamin D council website:  You can also keep up with the latest research on this website.

            The best source of vitamin D is sunlight and you will never get enough to produce toxicity from the sun.  However, sometimes people who frequent the sunlight are still vitamin D deficient.  It is recommended that you get at least 15 minutes of daily sunlight on 40 percent of your body without a sun blocker—but never a burn. 

            Another option is taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement.  It is important to keep in mind if you opt for oral supplementation you only want to supplement with natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the human vitamin D.  It is better absorbed and compatible with the body than its synthetic counterpart, vitamin D2.  In recent years, this has become common knowledge and foods are supplemented with vitamin D 3 rather than D2 which used to be common.  You may have to read the small print to get accurate information about all your supplements.  D3 is inexpensive and can be purchased in large doses without a prescription.   

            There is still much to be learned about vitamin D, as well as other nutrients and how they can help maintain and regain health.  Stay informed and don’t believe everything you hear on television.  People often say “they” say this or that—as if “they” are the last word.  Find out who “they” are and make your own decisions.  Your health may depend on it.


(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at