Foods highest in vitamin D are also those that have high amounts of cholesterol. Low-cholesterol diets, therefore, are diets deficient in vitamin D. As vitamin D supplements fly off the shelves and tests to measure vitamin D levels becomes the most-ordered lab test in the U.S., we must ask the question: Have we created vitamin D deficiency by taking the wrong dietary advice?
Cholesterol: The bogus bad guy
Cholesterol has been treated as a health villain by the media for the past 60 years based almost entirely on the research of Ancel Keys. However, the tides may finally be turning as more studies acknowledge the faulty research that led to the incorrect conclusion that both saturated fats and cholesterol contribute to heart disease and poor health. Turns out, the fats used in his research weren’t butter, lard or steak as you might expect: they were vegetable margarine. Cholesterol is only present in animal products so it is interesting that cholesterol has been blamed for all these years when it wasn’t even in Keys’ original research!
What you need to know about vitamin D
- Vitamin D isn’t exactly a vitamin at all. It more closely resembles a steroid hormone and the body makes hormones from cholesterol. Like other hormones, vitamin D is regulated in the body by feedback loops on receptors. When levels reach a high enough point, the body sends a signal to make less. When levels get too low, the body sends a signal to make more.
- According to author T.S. Wiley we only need about 10 minutes of sunlight a day to have the raw materials to make enough vitamin D.
- If vitamin D receptors aren’t working properly, we don’t make enough vitamin D. The receptors need to be re-set or the feedback loops don’t work properly and it doesn’t matter how much sunlight you get because the body won’t get the message that it needs to make more vitamin D!
- Vitamin D receptors, specifically vitamin D3 receptors, have a 24 hr. re-set button and that re-set button is (drum roll, please) darkness! Not sunlight, but darkness sends the signal to the body’s receptors to make vitamin D. What does this imply? That we can get all the sunlight offered in a day, eat a great diet and still be vitamin D deficient because our receptor won’t make vitamin D.
- Even if all is fine with our receptors, part of the process of making vitamin D from sun exposure happens by way of natural oils on our skin. This process can be disrupted if the natural oils are stripped away. Chlorinated water from unfiltered showers/baths/swimming pools and soaps remove these oils and interrupts the vitamin D making process.
Steps to boost your vitamin D
- It’s advisable to have your D levels tested before supplementing. Don’t assume a supplement will fix everything. Overdoing supplements can be just as harmful to your health as a deficiency. According to Dr. Lenore M. Buckley, Vitamin D supplements are especially bad for those with coronary disease or those at increased risk of coronary disease including people who have diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus or psoriasis since some of the extra calcium absorption that vitamin D is responsible for may be taken up by atherosclerotic plaque rather than the bones.
- As much as possible, avoid chlorinated water and soap on sun exposed body parts for 48 hours after a day in the sun. Showering or bathing in filtered water is best. Soap can be used on areas un-exposed to the sun.
- Eat animal foods rich in vitamin D (D3) such as cod liver oil, lard, herring, raw butter, mackerel, and egg yolk. Plant based vitamin D is not D3. It is D2, which, since is not stored via vitamin D binding-protein receptors as is D3, is more likely to cause toxicity and is considered inferior to D3.
- Don’t make a habit of staying up late. Go to sleep as close to the sun setting as you can and wake up with the sun.
- Sleep in as dark of a room as possible. Even a very small amount of light interferes with our hormone levels, including vitamin D, and doesn’t allow those vitamin D3 receptors to re-set.
- Get at least 10 minutes of sunshine on as much of your body as you can (daily if possible). We are lucky to have such great weather year round in the Bay Area!
The vitamin D deficiency dilemma we face is a complicated issue contributed to by many factors. We will certainly learn more about vitamin D in the coming years, but take notice that most of the ways to ensure proper vitamin D levels are going back to principles we used to live by: eat plenty of good fats and cholesterol-rich foods, get plenty of rest and spend time out in the sun. The low-fat, low-cholesterol dietary recommendations have made many health conditions worse, not better. Let’s go back to the basics and re-claim our health.