Until last week, I thought I understood Vitamin D. Then I attended a presentation by Green Pasture and was introduced to the Vitamin D Handbook: Structures, Synonyms, and Properties. This is an academic book that sells new for $145. It is highly technical. In it you will learn that there isn’t just one form of Vitamin D3, there are over 3,000 derivatives. Of the 3,000 derivatives, only 1,000 have published biochemical data on them.
If you go to Amazon and click the Look Inside link, you can see the level of detail on the different molecular formations of Vitamin D. See the screen capture below.
From The Vitamin D Handbook by G. W. A. Milne, M. Delander
When you buy a Vitamin D3 supplement, how many of the 3,000 derivatives are you getting? Just one. Every time we think we understand Mother Nature and go into a lab to replicate what we learned, we end up discovering what we don’t know exceeds what we do know. Michael Pollan calls this Nutritionism. What is the potential downside to taking mega doses of a single form of a Vitamin D3 molecule? We don’t know.
Loading up on supplements to solve our health issues is not only lazy, it is also arrogant. It assumes we know more than we do. Just this week a study came out about the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with calcium supplementation. If supplements aren’t the answer, what is? Whole foods. Whole food sources that contain Vitamin D do not just contain a single derivative, but a wide spectrum of derivatives. We get Vitamin D mostly from the sun and seafood.
Readers of this blog know that I have a strong interest in a seasonal approach to nutrition. Because I live north of the 37th parallel, I do not get enough sunshine during the winter months for Vitamin D production. Therefore I will use the winter months to favor seafood. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines all contain Vitamin D.
Cod liver oil is a controversial topic. Is it a food or a supplement? Does it contain a single Vitamin D derivative or a spectrum? What I know about this topic comes from Green Pasture. They make a fermented cod liver oil that doesn’t use the same processing techniques found with the other brands on the market. Based on what I saw at the presentation, I suspect their product is superior to others as it contains more than a single derivative of Vitamin D3, but I have no way of knowing for sure.
My Vitamin D strategy going forward is to favor sunshine for most of the year. During the winter months, I’ll increase my consumption of seafood and supplement with fermented cod liver oil when I go too long without seafood. Next winter I’ll finish the remaining capsules in my Vitamin D jar, but won’t be buying any more.
UPDATE JUNE 2011: One of my blog readers made this video on Sunshine and Vitamin D.