Sunshine, Vitamin D, and Death by Scientific Consensus

The traditional “Top Ten Breakthroughs of the Decade” lists have been appearing in science-related publications. One breakthrough, however, is conspicuously missing from every list I've seen so far. I'm talking about the new understanding of the role and proper dosage of the sunshine vitamin D.

The “scientific consensus” that has held sway for four decades regarding both exposure to the sun and vitamin D has collapsed. What has emerged in place of the old “settled science” is the knowledge that most people in America are seriously vitamin D deficient or insufficient. The same is true for Canada and Europe, and the implications are staggering.

Simply put, unless you are one of the few people with optimal serum D levels, such as lifeguards and roofers in South Florida, you can cut your risks from most major diseases by 50 to 80 percent. All you have to do is get enough D. It also means we can significantly reduce both health care costs and the staggering national deficit by taking a few simple steps.

As a financial writer, I bemoan the fact that no one can patent sunshine. Biotechs with therapies supported by far less evidence have exploded in value. Sirtris, for example, was bought by GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million to acquire IP for certain resveratrol-like substances. If you compare the evidence supporting the benefits of resveratrol vs. sunshine, sunshine leaves resveratrol in the dust.

I do, however, advise all my readers to get and keep their vitamin D levels up. This is simply because the economic benefits of doing so are so profound. Major illnesses have long been the biggest cause of financial crisis, a fact that proponents of nationalized health care have exploited well.

In truth, however, sensible sun exposure and vitamin D3 supplementation would do far more for our national health than the current health care bill. Even better, the benefits to society could be achieved without spending hundreds of billions of dollars. If an “Army of Davids” took it upon itself to spread the word, they could achieve what government is apparently incapable of achieving.

I realize, incidentally, that such bold claims probably inspire skepticism. They should, in fact, and I'm going to make even more bold claims. So allow me to make the necessary disclaimers and move on.

I've come to the conclusions I've written here because my job as a tech investment adviser requires that I survey thousands of the most recent scientific studies. In the last few years, an overwhelming flood of new evidence has been produced supporting the view that the medical and nutritional establishments have been fundamentally wrong about vitamin D's physiological role and optimal dosage.

I'm not, however, going to hyperlink/footnote academic papers for everything I tell you in this article, though those studies exist with multiple redundancies. Nor will I try to explain the biological function of vitamin D, something better left to biologists. I will include a number of links at the end of this article to people and sites with far more credibility. They have journal articles online with voluminous footnotes.

I would encourage you, nevertheless, to verify even their information and act accordingly.

If researchers on the cutting edge are right, the benefits of raising your serum D levels to about 40 ng/ml are enormous. If they are wrong, the risks associated with the recommended therapy are trivial, if not nonexistent, especially if done through supplementation. This is simple Bayesian analysis.

If you do take my advice and perform further research on this subject, you will still encounter holdouts who assert that unprotected exposure to sunshine is always dangerous and that a normal diet supplemented by a daily multiple vitamin provides sufficient vitamin D. Behind the scenes, however, even the NIH is now looking for a face-saving way to change positions on vitamin D without taking too much blame for having resisted those who have urged reassessment for decades.

The stakes are huge, as are the benefits of attaining optimal vitamin D levels. The embarrassment for those who must admit past error, however, may be even greater. The reason is that untold millions have suffered and died prematurely because those who challenged the “settled science” regarding sunshine and vitamin D decades ago were treated like crackpots and demonized.

Now we know that very few people have optimal serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], the principal form of vitamin D circulating in the blood. Moreover, those with more melanin manufacture less vitamin D in their skins, so they suffer disproportionately from diseases exacerbated by vitamin D deficiencies.

Dr. Michael Holick, the researcher most responsible for this radical change in thinking, has described the current state of widespread vitamin D deficiency as a “silent epidemic.” In a world inured to over-the-top predictions (polar ice caps will melt in just a few years, and sea levels will rise 20 feet), it is natural to treat the word “epidemic” as hyperbole. A quick Google news search finds the word associated with everything from methamphetamine use to concussions in professional hockey.

Vitamin D deficiency, however, is not one of these metaphoric “epidemics.” It is an extremely serious public health problem that affects virtually all diseases. To understand this change in thinking, we need to review briefly the history of vitamin D and our understanding of its function.