Health Matters: D does not stand for dog

I was surprised to read the results of a research paper that was recently published about vitamin D.

A Florida scientist did blood tests on several hundred post menopausal women for this substance. Why he wasn’t spending the time playing on the beach instead of poking women with needles is a mystery, but this is what he found: 25 percent of the women had low levels Vitamin D. It’s the sunshine vitamin. It’s is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Florida has sun, lots of it. What does that mean for women or men, for that matter, that live in a place like Washington State?

Apparently not all animals need the sun. Our bull dog, Austin, gets a maximum of two or three photons daily, total. He sleeps in an insulated kennel with a heating pad, 27 hours a day. I have actually seen him leave his little house for a few moments near dusk, to search out and eat non-recyclable plastic, grubs, and cat hair, but none of these, as far as I am aware, contain vitamin D or calcium. Amazingly Austin has never broken a bone. On the other hand, Austin is not human — he is probably not a mammal, but perhaps a mollusk; no one really knows. Still the point is that Austin should not serve as a dietary role model for any of us. Mollusks may not need vitamin D, but humans do.

Vitamin D is essential for bone growth. It seems to have one of its major effects in the intestine where it promotes the absorption of calcium. No vitamin D, no calcium, bones weaken, and we break. Beyond bones, Vitamin D has become very sexy lately. It switches on some cells of the immune system to make them more active against bacteria and viruses. It may play a role in treating depression. Some patients with difficult to treat muscle ache and pains have responded to vitamin D. Furthermore, there are receptors in most of our cells for vitamin D, so there is probably a lot more about the vitamin that we do not understand. I tried some heavy duty vitamin D lotion once because the label claimed to “rejuvenate your skin.” It made me smell like a salmon.

There are basically three ways to get this vitamin. The first is direct exposure to sunlight, namely ultra violet B radiation (UVB). You may recall that this is the wave length responsible for skin aging and implicated in some skin cancers. People responded to this by covering up with hats and clothing and using sunscreens. It seems that we must choose between skin cancers that eat away our flesh, or osteoporosis that causes us to break and crumble into a miserable, painful heap. Nice.

The second source of vitamin D is food. Fish, fish oil, and eggs have a fair amount of the vitamin. Poor sources of vitamin D include non-recyclable plastic, grubs, and cat hair. Finally, there are the vitamin pills. The recommended dose is about 800 to 1000 units of vitamin D a day, which I suspect will go up a bit as research progresses. Vitamin D is theoretically toxic in high doses, but actual reports of this are rare. Consider that our skin can make 10,000 units of D with a mere twenty minutes of exposure to strong sun light. Read your multi vitamin bottle for the vitamin D content. It will be below the recommended levels for humans, though just right for mollusks.