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Vitamin D Dosage and Mental Health

Publication date: 19 May 2013

How much of any particular vitamin or nutrient do you actually need? This week I came across research that sheds important light on this question.

It's something of a controversial question - some claim that if you just eat a healthy diet you'll get everything you need. Nutritional therapy starts with the idea that there's a large gap between rank deficiency and optimal health and well-being. Two further core ideas are that need for any nutrient is very much an individual thing, and that if you're suffering a functional deficiency, you need relatively large amounts to return to optimal health.

This seems to be particularly the case with vitamin D. Vitamin D is different from most other nutrients in that your body makes vitamin D (when strong sunlight reaches the skin). In fact dietary vitamin D is very much a secondary source. Furthermore it has been said that vitamin D is more a hormone than a nutrient. There are receptors for vitamin D in the nuclei of cells - vitamin D acts as a signalling molecule that affects gene expression. See this lecture by Michael Holick on vitamin D for more information.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK. At our latitude our bodies don't make any in the winter months. Dark skinned people are especially vulnerable.

Vitamin D deficiency is known to correlate to several major illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and depression.

So let's return to my question - how much do we need and how much should we supplement?

The first thing to say is that undoubtedly the best way to judge dose is to test your blood level. This is because health benefits are associated with achieving a certain blood level. If you're relatively deficient you need a higher dose. On the other hand vitamin D is toxic in very high levels so you don't want to overdo it.

(As a qualified nutritional therapist I can arrange the test for you.)

The optimal blood level has been rising over recent years as more evidence comes to light of the health benefits of vitamin D. Currently it's thought to be at least 50 ng/ml.

This week I came across this study of vitamin D dosage in relation to achieving optimal blood concentrations. I quote: "The supplemental dose ensuring that 97.5% of [the experimental population] achieved a serum 25(OH)D of at least 40 ng/ml was 9,600 IU/d. Conclusion: Universal intake of up to 40,000 IU vitamin D per day is unlikely to result in vitamin D toxicity." Furthermore they report that no intakes of 10,000 IU per day or lower led to toxic levels of vitamin D.

This is a radical finding because supplementing 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day would once have been considered dangerously high.

It would be extremely difficult to get this much vitamin D from a normal (healthy) diet.

Maybe there are other nutrients which confer health benefits when supplemented way beyond levels achievable from a normal diet?

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