I’ve known and talked for many years about the nature of vitamin D and its effects on human (and pet) health. I’ve strongly maintained that serious elite athletes need to insure their levels of active D are well above 50ng/ml, to as far as around 70 ng/ml! Some 80% of the American population is deficient, ie, LESS than 40 ng/ml, and many are in the teens of ng/ml, surely leading to diseases. I am writing this primarily for those that “get it” rather than to persuade the resisters of D benefits.
Something about the nature of D, despite my years of intensive information gathering on it, recently took me totally by surprise, and has altered my stance on my dosing recommendations for vitamin D3 for athletes and anyone undergoing physical stress/exertion OR CHEMOTHERAPY.
For years, I’ve been able to keep my blood level, as measured by the 25(OH)D blood test, well above 50 ng/ml. Studies have shown better athletic performance for up to 70 ng/ml. Elderly people fall down less often, and suffer hip fractures far less often, the higher their blood levels are, and for athletes needed *excellent* balance and control over muscle function, up to 70 is shown to help. Logic dictates: If you want to cover your bases and be as healthy as you can, you must insure your D levels are at least at the mother-nature level of 50 ng/ml. And if you want to be an elite performer of maximum personal potential, it must be up in the 70ng/ml range.
I have been remarkably consistent in body weight over the last decade, staying at around 238 to 240 pounds, with a 6’6″ frame. Though a few years ago, I ruptured/liquified a lumbar disc or two, and lost about an inch in height. But still a fairly good, “dad-bod”. Not terribly active physically other than the standing and walking a pharmacist gets daily. BP and heart rate both healthy/low.
Just a month or two back I had my D tested, and it was over 80 ng/ml, much to my satisfaction. It goes up slightly in the summer due to extra sun, not because I changed my daily oral dose of 10,000iu of D3.
Since that test, I have had to suddenly do a lot of hiking in the hill country. Hiking up and down, over hills, down ravines, slippery rocky paths, cutting branches and trees, clearing brush, going several miles a day, making notes and taking rangefinder distances to decide the placement for 24 target stands and bales for an archery tournament. This in Texas summer, June and July heat and sun, on weekends. After 3 or 4 weekends I had the plan, but no one to execute it with. So from sunup to sundown, for five straight days of “vacation” from the pharmacy, I carried wooden stands, pounds of metal spikes, rolled 30-pound 52-inch target bales throughout, and toted assorted tools over a two and one-half mile course that gained and lost hundreds of feet in altitude, cutting branches and clearing paths and brush. I drank constantly but never stayed caught up with hydration, my clothes were always sopping wet and rarely did I need to umm, micturate after around 9am. I stopped for breaks only when my pulse exceeded 160 or 170, or else my vision became monochrome, or my disorientation kept me from figuring out what I needed to do next. I did this for 5 days straight, stopping each day when it got dark.
I shed somewhere around 16 pounds during those 5 days, and every morning was extremely painful due to muscle and joint soreness, which disappeared as I warmed up. I’ve done Colorado Outward Bound(yeah, with a 17-y.o. body), I thought, I can do anything I truly need to, and this needed doing. So I did it.
The tournament went off nearly perfectly, thanks to some help at the very last, on the last two days prior, by a couple of good friends, including my wife(my best friend, actually). John Magera and Gina, also finished because I was out of vacation days and had to return to work in the pharmacy. (air conditioning, LOVE IT)…
We had 40 archers shoot the course, I shot more than 1500 photos (and posted them in a great album format). I then reclaimed all the bales, the stands, the spikes, the signs, removed the trail tags, picked up all the distance pegs and markers, again mostly on my own, though Gina was extremely helpful on several of the days, and John also helped right after the tournament.
A week later, I did another D test for no real good reason other than I thought since I had been in the sun so much it would be good to evaluate the effect. I used a $50 test from the Vitamin D Council. It came back as 36 ng/ml! Holy Cow, I haven’t had that low of a level in a decade! What was wrong? I’d been in the sun those days for 14 hours, and I never use sunscreen. Never changed my daily dose of capsules of D. Didn’t change my diet other than to miss the noon meal each day, which helped me with that weight loss. What could explain the drop? It should have gone UP, I was in the sun so much.
After hours of mulling it over, the lightbulb FINALLY lit up.
D helps the immune system, makes cathelicidin which can decrease the level, somewhat especially if you are ill with a viral/fungal/bacterial infection.
But I haven’t been sick in my memory over the last decade, no flu, no crud, no skin infections, lung infections, nada! So that couldn’t be why.
D also helps the body …..deal with inflammation. AHA. My severe cross-training-like days working out were very effective in tearing down my muscles – each night I would start severe leg cramping until I took diazepam, despite drinking plenty of rehydration fluids – and muscle/weight training is nothing more than purposefully inflicting damage and inflammation, and expecting the body to respond by rebuilding that damaged muscle fiber back bigger, better, and stronger. Likewise bones that are stressed, by say, hiking up and down hills bearing extra weight, will increase their density by migrating calcium to them to enhance the matrix. These things require vitamin D! I literally burned up my D by overtraining.
I was so astonished, though. I knew if one has a bone fracture, the blood level of D virtually vanishes overnight, going to close to zero as that bone area absorbs it to begin the knitting process. But I hadn’t linked muscle destruction of the intense sort I underwent with the same physiological response!
I wrote to Dr. Cannell, a noted expert on D and the head of the Vitamin D Council, and he confirmed my suspicions – it is entirely consistent that my levels would fall so dramatically in such a short time, given the workload I performed.
So I am taking 50,000iu daily for the next two weeks, then returning to 10K iu per day.
More importantly, I am urging every athlete in training, particularly archers who cross-train, to get their 25(OH)D tested ASAP. Make sure that your blood level is at least up in the 60 ng/ml to 80 ng/ml range while you are in your training cycle.
I have been recommending far too little up until now, and the only “sure” way to know you are taking enough is to get that $50 test. It’s quick and easy, only takes a little finger-stick, like diabetics do multiple times a day. If you are serious about either your health or your ability to perform at your very best, test your D level while you are demanding the most from your body and make sure your level is top-notch. 50ng/ml is the very lowest it should be, and anything up to 100 ng/ml is now considered safe and a normal range by most labs.
If you are NOT an athlete working out, and do NOT have a pathology (cancer, RA, MS, chronic nerve irritation such as a “myelitis” or a neuralgia, a bone infection, or are pregnant, or dealing with autism, etc.) then taking 5,000iu to 10,000iu daily per 100 pounds of body weight is prudent, provided you get a test after two months on that dosage to verify your level is at least 50 ng/ml. Got a pathology? You should consider 50k/day for several months, and evaluate your pathology/signs & symptoms at that point. It may take *months* of good levels to undo *years of chronic deficiency*, or even longer.
If you are in heavy training, or under a lot of duress from competitions and traveling, you need more. Possibly as much as 30,000 or 40,000iu of D3 PER DAY. Much more than you can generate by laying out in the Texas sun from 10am to 4pm, completely nekkid. Studies show that lifeguards, for example, routinely can generate 20,000iu per day!
What happens if you take too much? Nothing. The only true risk is for those that take too much calcium (ie, more than 1200mg for adults, 1700mg for adolescents, per day) because the enhanced D will improve your absorption of Calcium, and hypercalcemia CAN be a problem, and even life-threatening. Just don’t take too much calcium, and the extra D will do nothing adverse. USADA has no issue with vitamin D – just take a reputable brand (I use BioTech Pharmacal, after discussing manufacturing methods with the owner of the company, they do not “mess” with any USADA-forbidden substances)
Your tolerance to sun exposure will go up. Your risk of infections, cancer (20+ types and counting) will go down. Your nervous system and your muscular tissues will communicate better. And so on…..
Oh. Yeah, there I go with my eurocentric narrow-window perspective again. I forgot about all you athletes with naturally dark skin – yep, if you check a box other than “caucasian”, then I have some rude news for you. You are FAR MORE LIKELY TO BE DEFICIENT than I am(I’m a typical gringo skin type), if we are both getting the same amount of sun exposure. Where I might make 5,000iu of D3 in just 15 minutes laying out nekkid in the Texas noon-day sun, if you are exposing the same amount of skin as I am, it may take you FIVE TIMES AS LONG to make that 5,000iu of D3. You see, having the sun provoke your skin into making vitamin D is mother nature’s way of protecting your skin from the damages of UV-A sunlight (which damages DNA and causes cancer big-time). Dark skin NATURALLY is not as susceptible to UV-A wavelengths of sun, so unless you are living near to the equator, you have to work much harder to generate a healthy amount of vitamin D. Not fair, not unfair, just the way it is. So you can compensate by taking MORE vitamin D3 orally, perhaps two or three times as much daily as I do, to get to the same beneficial levels.
And any doctor that prescribes say, 50,000iu of vitamin D once a week? Malpractice. The half-life of D3 is less than 24 hours. If you need 10,000 or 20,000iu per day, then on Day 1, you’ve got it. Day 2, you’ve got 25,000. Day 3, you are down to 12,000. WHOOPS. Day 4, 6,000, and on days 5, 6, and 7, your tissues ain’t getting bupkus!!! Most of your body’s cells need D3. Only a few need the activated form produced by your liver and kidneys from D3, known as 25(OH)D. Most cells absorb the “raw” D3, and activate it internally to be healthy. To fight off cancer-causing free radicals and DNA damage. So any prescriber that thinks that 50K a week is good is not even hitting the bale at 18 meters, let alone scoring an X at 70 meters….
Want to have your best chance for a healthy life? Want to reach the top step? Take your D3. Get some sun, don’t burn, but get some sun. And get your level of 25(OH)D tested and make sure it is at least 50 ng/ml, and if you want to be elite, get it to 70 ng/ml and keep it there during the heaviest training regimen.