How much vitamin D do you really need ?

maasai jumping with vitamin D How much vitamin D do you really need ?The idea that the modern world is running low on vitamin D is widely accepted, what is debated in scientific circles at least, is what is NORMAL.

It is an important question, since good body chemistry is all about getting

  • The right chemical
  • At the right levels (dose)
  • At the right time

Too little of a chemical is a problem, but too much can be equally problematic.

Mother nature keeps the balance

As a rule, mother nature has sophisticated regulation systems which ensure we never get too much of something or too little.

But mother nature’s regulation depends on us being “natural”.

Unfortunately modern man has largely forgotten how to be “natural”.

We run on a 24 hour clock, eat processed foods and spend most of our days indoors, actively avoiding sun.

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin

Mother nature intended us to get our vitamin D supply from the sun, so we are programmed to use the sun’s energy to turn cholesterol in our skin into this essential nutrient.

Our sun avoidance habits are what has sparked the widespread vitamin D shortages, and our obsession with low cholesterol probably has not helped.

The obvious fix for the vitamin D short fall – is a bout of sun tanning.

But as modern man we like short cuts – the vitamin D short cut comes in convenient bottle of pills, the vitamin D supplement.

How much is “natural” ?

The million dollar question – what levels are “natural”.

Scientists from the Netherlands decided to look at vitamin D levels in human populations still living more-or-less “naturally”.

They trekked to remote parts of Africa to gather blood samples from two East African communities – the Maasai and Hadzabe. Both these communities spend their days under the sun – the Maasai as cattle farmers (pastoralists) and the Hadzabe as hunter-gatherers.

Both communities have darker skins (type VI), so they naturally have more sun block than more fair skinned people of European descent, but their skin type makes it harder for them to make vitamin D. They don’t layer up with lots of clothes or apply bottles of sun blocking cream everytime they head outdoors.

Maasai vitamin D levels are hopping high

The Maasai levels averaged 48 ng/ml and ranged from 23 to 67 ng/ml. The Hadzabe levels averaged 44 ng/ml and ranged from 28 to 68 ng/ml.

So “natural” man’s vitamin D levels are hopping on average around 45 – 50 ng/ml.

NORMAL seems to be between 40 – 60 ng/ml.

Shoot for 40-60 ng/ml

So the right amount is likely to be somewhere between 40 and 60 ng/ml.

Maybe you’re thinking, how does this help me ? I want to know how much to swallow everyday.

Unfortunately as with all matters pharmacological – it depends.

Rule of thumb

In an ideal world, you should base your supplementation level on YOUR numbers i.e. get tested.

But I know, this is not an ideal world – tests cost money and time.

So what do the experts say ….

  • The Institute for Medicine recommends 600 IU per day.
  • The vitamin D council recommends 5000 IU per day.

For most people 600 IU per day is probably not enough to get the level above 40 ng/ml. So more is almost certainly better , but if you do more, don’t do more than 5000 IU per day on a long-term basis. Too much is just as bad as too little.

Do vitamin D

The maasai are poster boys for good health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity etc are largely unheard of in these traditional communities. The maasai do lots of things differently from modern man, regular sun tanning is just one aspect of their lifestyle contributing to good health.

But it is an aspect modern man needs to do. The take home message is do enough vitamin D.

Traditionally living populations in East Africa have a mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration of 115 nmol/l. Br J Nutr. (2012) 23:1-5. Luxwolda MF, Kuipers RS, Kema IP, Janneke Dijck-Bouwer DA, Muskiet FA.


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Further reading

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