Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Sunshine Vitamin

I go to a very smart dentist. This is good for a lot of reasons. One, I can trust her to know how to take care of my teeth, gums and mouth. Two, when she’s chatting (and I’m silenced because her hands are inside my mouth) I learn interesting things.

A year ago when she started my check-up (as she always does) by asking me about any changes in my health since my previous visit, I told her that my last bone density scan showed that I had lost some density in my hips. (Sadly, this does not translate to smaller hips.) I was troubled by this, and surprised because I take my calcium supplements so faithfully. We got to talking about bone density and the prevalence of osteoporosis. Okay, she was talking, I was gagging on her vinyl gloves, but that’s not important right now. What is important is what she told me about vitamin D.

“Everything bad that can happen to you is going to turn out to be caused by a lack of vitamin D,” she said. “Everything.”

And so, as it happens so often with people who have very big brains, she was right.
This week I got an e-mail from a very well-respected medical website saying that colon cancer survival is linked to vitamin D levels. Yikes—that’s pretty important stuff. It actually said that patients who had higher levels of vitamin D when diagnosed with colon cancer were 50% more likely to survive than people with lower levels. This was from a nine-year study of more than a thousand colon cancer patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In other words, serious science.

Then I read in the AARP magazine this month (yeah, remember? --I’m old!) that as many as 75% of us may not be getting enough vitamin D. They note that a Harvard study of 18,000 men who’ve been tracked since 1993 showed that heart attack rates correlate directly to low vitamin D rates. Again: science!

And these two items reminded me that when Dr. Debbie made her bold prediction a year ago, I started saving little articles about vitamin D, and its miraculous role in our individual and collective health. What follows is a little roll call of what I’ve learned about vitamin D.

Low vitamin D levels correlate to:
problems with thinking and remembering
heart disease
high blood pressure
increased death rate (how could it be more than one apiece?)
poor bone density
poor muscle strength
tooth loss
hip fractures
problems with thinking and remembering (gotcha!)
increased rates of colon cancer in men
increased rates of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women
increased rates of prostate cancer, especially in African-American men

Got your attention?

Vitamin D also seems to protect us against infections, while it actually decreases
reactions that lead to some autoimmune diseases. Holy smokes, what about athlete’s foot and hangnails?

The reason they’re making such a big deal about this recently, is that because dermatologists convinced us to protect ourselves from the dangers of skin cancers by using SPF, we no longer get the benefit of “the sunshine vitamin” when we’re outdoors. Now we need to take vitamin D3 supplements to get the protection this vitamin offers. The amazingly surprising good news in all of this is that vitamin D is so very inexpensive.

Of course, I’m not licensed to practice over the internet, and HIPAA regulations prevent me from disclosing where your nearest pharmacy is, but you just might want to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels at your next visit. What could it hurt? The AARP article (and others) says that some doctors are recommending 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week.

And if your dentist isn’t as smart or involved as Dr. Debbie, don’t worry. You’ve got the blogosphere to see you through.

I’m so happy with Dr. Debbie’s insights, I’m going to get her what most dentists want: a little plaque.


  1. Wow.

    Note to self: get some Vitamin D.

  2. I heard about this on Oprah a couple of years ago. You know that Doctor she always has on there. I can't think of his name. But he said that the skin cancer scare was actually killing us all because we weren't getting Vitamin D. Interesting, isn't it?

  3. Doesn't surprise me. I've seen several things about eh lack of vitamin D lately too.

  4. And I thought my doc was nuts when he prescribed Vitamin D for me a while back... huh!