by Diane Bryan, Ed.M
Executive Director, The Intelligence Group

Until a few years ago, Vitamin D was thought to be just a simple vitamin that helped prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis and rickets.  Now we know it’s actually a steroid hormone, regulating more than 3,000 genes, and that Vitamin D receptors are found in almost every tissue and cell of the human body.  Vitamin D is a powerful booster of the immune system, and without adequate supplies of this nutrient, we have a difficult time staying healthy.  As a Health Research Consultant and Consumer Advocate, I’ve been aware for several years that scientists have been warning about the worldwide epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency. And because it’s estimated that in the United States approximately 70% to 85% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D, I’ve become a very vocal advocate for Vitamin D testing for all of us—from babies to the elderly.  Unfortunately, until recently, very few doctors were taking this problem seriously.  Now, many doctors I know are routinely testing their patients’ Vitamin D numbers. 

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a wide variety of health problems

Alcoholism, allergies, Alzheimer’s Disease, asthma, autism, bone fractures, bone pain, cancer, Celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, colds, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Crohn’s Disease, cystic fibrosis, dental cavities, depression, diabetes, eczema, fibroid tumors, fibromyalgia, Grave’s Disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperparathyroidism, hypothyroidism, impaired bone mineralization, infertility, inflammatory bowel disease, influenza, insomnia, kidney disease,  liver disease, lupus, macular degeneration, migraines, multiple sclerosis, muscle weakness, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, pancreatic disease, panic disorders, Parkinson’s Disease, periodontal disease, pneumonia, psoriasis, respiratory infections,  rheumatoid arthritis, rickets, schizophrenia, seizures, stroke, tuberculosis,  an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life--and much more.
Obesity can cause Vitamin D deficiency

Today, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as much as 36% of American adults and 17% of American children are obese. Thirty years ago, before processed foods and drive-thru restaurant meals became the main source of nutrition for most Americans, approximately 15% of adults and 6% of children were considered obese. As our population has become heavier, Vitamin D levels for adults and children have dropped dramatically, which also increases the risk for insulin resistance. A study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, published in the journal Pediatrics (online on December 24, 2012), tested Vitamin D levels for approximately 12,000 children ranging in age from 6 to 18 years. They found Vitamin D deficiency in 29% of overweight children, 34% of obese children, 49% of severely obese children, and 21% of healthy weight children. Uppsala University in Sweden conducted a study involving 108 obese men and women.  Approximately 77% of them were low in Vitamin D (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2010). 

Scientists have different explanations for why so many obese people are vitamin D deficient. Fat soluble Vitamin D is stored in fat tissue.  Some scientists believe that the extra body fat that overweight and obese children and adults carry is absorbing their Vitamin D, and less of the nutrient is getting into the bloodstream.  Other scientists argue that Vitamin D deficiency has nothing to do with fat tissue storage.  It’s their opinion that Vitamin D is being diluted by the bigger body mass of overweight and obese individuals. 

Unfortunately, Vitamin D supplementation does not always normalize Vitamin D levels in overweight people. The Hasbro Children’s Hospital study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (May 2011) examined the Vitamin D blood levels of 69 obese adolescents. Low levels of vitamin D were found in 100% of the girls, and 91% of the boys. They were given Vitamin D supplementation, but only 28 % of the group raised their Vitamin D levels to normal.
And reaching a healthy weight after weight loss surgery won’t improve your Vitamin D levels. According to Per Hellman, Professor of Surgery at Uppsala University, obese patients who undergo gastric by-pass surgery and lose weight do not raise their Vitamin D numbers, and in fact they may worsen.  Dr. Hellman says, “Unfortunately, this fact is underappreciated.  Vitamin D supplements are important even in the aftermath of such surgery.”

Over the years I’ve heard complaints from many overweight children and adults about how they are constantly hungry.  I believe this is because their unhealthy diets, filled with empty calories from solid fats, added sugars, and genetically modified super strains of grains (whose safety for human consumption has never been tested), are a poor source of the nutrients they need.  Their bodies are actually starving for life-sustaining vitamins and minerals, and the result is an urge to want to eat more.
An abundance of recent research has shown we decrease our risk for numerous diseases if our bodies maintain sufficient supplies of Vitamin D

And scientists are warning that this needs to start early. They are concerned that exposure in the womb to lower than normal levels of Vitamin D can predispose children to developing autoimmune diseases (including Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis) later in life. Unfortunately, today we’re seeing an alarming increase in the number of Vitamin D deficient mothers giving birth to Vitamin D deficient babies.  This is troubling because the foundation for a child’s bone health begins in the womb.

Babies born with Vitamin D deficiency have low levels of calcium in the blood

Calcium is critically needed for the formation of strong bones, and our bodies rely on Vitamin D to alert the intestines to increase their absorption of calcium, which leads to higher levels of calcium in the bloodstream.  But when the body suffers from Vitamin D deficiency, this process can’t occur.  The body is now low in calcium, and because it urgently needs normal levels of calcium in the bloodstream for functions such as muscle contractions and nerve conduction, it will begin grabbing calcium from bone tissue. 

And the result for many children is rickets, a disease that causes soft bones. Infants who develop rickets may have trouble supporting themselves when they sit up or crawl.  They may suffer from skeletal deformities and brittle bones.  Their skull bones could fail to solidify properly during their first 18 months of life.  They may have bone pain, weak muscles, and frequent fractures too. Rickets can also affect their teeth.  Baby teeth may erupt late, at one year of age, instead of at 6 months, and come in smaller than normal.  Many children who have low levels of Vitamin D also have an abnormal amount of dental cavities, and may have periodontal disease as well.

A child’s brain development and Vitamin D deficiency

“There is now clear evidence that Vitamin D is involved in brain development.”  This is the conclusion of a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology (December 2009).   Many subsequent studies back it up.  The journal Pediatrics (October 2012) published a study from the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain.  Researchers found that at approximately 14 months old, children of mothers who were deficient in Vitamin D during their pregnancies scored lower on tests that evaluated their motor and mental abilities than children of the same age whose mothers had normal Vitamin D levels during their pregnancies.

Autism and Vitamin D deficiency

Autism rates continue to climb each decade in the United States, as well as worldwide.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by age 8, 1 in every 88 American children has been diagnosed with autism. Many scientists are now linking Vitamin D deficiency to autism.  A study published in the journal Dermato Endocrinology (November 2009) found that pregnant mothers who are deficient in Vitamin D may put their babies at risk of developing infant autism disease “possibly by affecting fetal brain development as well as possibly by affecting maternal immune system status during pregnancy.”   A study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation (August 2012) found that “Autistic children had significantly lower serum levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D than healthy children…”  These researchers also point out that it’s a child’s genes that will determine if he or she develops autism.

Pregnant mothers who are Vitamin D deficient may predispose their offspring to obesity

A recent study from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom followed 977 pregnant women and their children. Researchers found that by age 4 to 6, the children who were born to mothers who had been deficient in Vitamin D during their pregnancies had more body fat than the children whose mothers had normal Vitamin D levels during their pregnancies. These children were not overweight at birth.  The researchers conclude: “One interpretation of our data is that there are programmed effects on the fetus that arise from maternal vitamin D insufficiency that remain with the individual and that may predispose him or her to gain excess body fat in later childhood." (Published online May 23, 2012,
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)

The importance of adequate amounts of Vitamin D in prenatal vitamins

Scientific evidence supports the urgent need for pregnant women to maintain optimal Vitamin D levels in order for their children’s brains and bodies to develop properly, and to avoid adverse health outcomes including premature birth, gestational diabetes, low birth weight newborns, and preeclampsia (high blood pressure). Despite this information, most prenatal vitamins include only 400 IUs of Vitamin D, which according to both the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is much too low. 

In 2007, the Canadian Pediatric Society recommended that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should take 2,000 IUs a day of Vitamin D.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 1,000 to 2,000 IUs a day, and admits that “most experts agree that supplemental vitamin D is safe in dosages up to 4,000 international units per day during pregnancy or lactation.”

Vitamin D deficiency in infants and children can be life-threatening 

It can lead to Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a rare and often fatal condition in which the heart of a child cannot pump blood properly because it has become enlarged and too weak.  The heart needs calcium in order to pump, but Vitamin D deficiency causes low calcium levels.  The heart is a muscle, and Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with weak muscles.  I’ve read several medical journal articles from many countries discussing children with severe Dilated Cardiomyopathy who were treated with supplementation of Vitamin D and calcium, and their lives were saved.  Unfortunately, routinely checking for Vitamin D deficiency is not usually done, even when children and adults are critically ill.  Many doctors have been trained to test Vitamin D levels only when calcium levels are out of the normal range. But these numbers often are not an accurate reflection of the body’s true calcium levels.  The Vitamin D deficient body, unable to absorb calcium properly, is pulling calcium out of the bones to maintain these normal range calcium blood levels.
Vitamin D and seizures

I’ve talked to a few doctors who say they are seeing an increase in seizures in children. Some of these children have rickets too.  A study of 78 children with epilepsy published in Pediatric Neurology (June 2010) found that approximately 75% of the group were Vitamin D deficient. Epilepsy and Behavior (May 2012) published a study from the National Institute for Medical Rehabilitation, Budapest, Hungary. “Although vitamin D deficiency is known to be highly prevalent among epilepsy patients, only a single study, published nearly forty years ago, assessed the effect of vitamin D on seizure control.” This recent study found “that seizure numbers significantly decreased upon vitamin D3 supplementation. Median seizure reduction was 40%. We conclude that the normalization of serum vitamin 25(OH)D level has an anticonvulsant effect.” 

I’ve heard that it’s estimated that close to 50% of the patients who have epilepsy are Vitamin D deficient.   But despite this information, I’ve been told by several parents whose children get seizures that their physicians have not tested Vitamin D levels, or mentioned Vitamin D supplementation to them.  Treatment has consisted only of prescribed drugs.

Vitamin D protects us from autoimmune diseases and cancer

I’ve read article after article in which scientists discuss how Vitamin D protects us from autoimmune diseases, as well as cancer--especially breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers. A 2009 study found that the active form of Vitamin D (calcitriol) may inhibit the growth of malignant breast cancer cells.  A Swedish study published in the journal Neurology (November 20, 2012) reports that people with high blood levels of Vitamin D are at lower risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis.  According to the findings of a study published in the Archives of Neurology,68th volume of 2011, long term Vitamin D insufficiency may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s Disease.  Another study, published March 13, 2013 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that giving Vitamin D3 to Parkinson’s Disease patients may prevent progression of the disease.

The authors of a Boston University School of Medicine study published online on Plos One on March 20, 2013 conclude: “Our data suggests that any improvement in Vitamin D status will significantly affect expression of genes that have a wide variety of biologic functions of more than 160 pathways linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders, and cardiovascular disease which have been associated with vitamin D deficiency. This study reveals for the first time molecular fingerprints that help explain the non-skeletal health benefits of vitamin D.”

Vitamin D and the aging brain

A study in the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences (2012) found that older women who have higher dietary intake of Vitamin D have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Additionally, Vitamin D supplementation in older adults may improve their mood and help them maintain brain function, according to a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (December 2006). Participants who had lower Vitamin D levels had lower scores on mood disorder tests and brain function tests. A study published in Neurology (January 24, 2012) tested 104 men and women whose average age was 87.  The researchers found that the subjects who displayed better cognitive functioning had higher blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins (B1, B2, B6, Folate, B12), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, as well as Vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency can increase risk of death in older adults

A study of 4,300 adults over age 60, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (June 2012), found an increased risk of death for those who had low levels of Vitamin D-- especially if they were considered to be frail. Frailty may appear as muscle weakness, feeling exhausted, unexplained weight loss, difficulty doing physical activity.  The study was not able to determine if frailty was a result of Vitamin D deficiency, or if health problems caused the Vitamin D deficiency. But lead author of the study, Ellen Smit of Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, does not believe it’s necessary to focus on how Vitamin D deficiency occurred, once you are frail.  “If you have both (Vitamin D deficiency and frailty), it may not really matter which came first because you are worse off and at greater risk of dying than other older people who are frail and who don’t have low vitamin D.  This is an important finding because we already know there is a biological basis for this. Vitamin D impacts muscle function and bones, so it makes sense that it plays a big role in frailty.”

Tuberculosis and Vitamin D

Approximately 1.5 million people die each year from tuberculosis, and drug resistant strains are becoming prevalent worldwide.  A study performed by several British hospitals, published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2012 , found that high doses of Vitamin D helped speed the recovery of patients with tuberculosis who were also taking antibiotics. Lung damage was prevented because Vitamin D appears to slow down inflammatory responses to the TB bacterium.  The study’s authors believe Vitamin D may also be helpful for pneumonia, and other illnesses.

Our bodies were designed to use sunlight to manufacture Vitamin D but we’re now seeing widespread deficiency of this nutrient in all age groups

Why?  The explanation that makes sense to me is that we’ve evolved from an agrarian society, where people were outside working the land, to a technology dependent society, where children and adults spend more time indoors than ever before.  The Archives of Internal Medicine reported in 2009 that in the United States 97% of African Americans, 90% of Hispanics, and 70% of Caucasians have a Vitamin D deficiency.  The correlation between our receiving less sun exposure and an increase in our becoming deficient in Vitamin D can’t be disputed. The sun emits both Ultraviolet A rays (UVA) and Ultraviolet B rays (UVB). It’s the UVB rays that are needed by our bodies for Vitamin D conversion, and they cannot penetrate the glass windows of our offices, schools, homes, and cars, or the SPF 15 or higher sunscreens we apply to ourselves and our children when we go outdoors. 

But UVA rays, the ultraviolet rays that play no part in the Vitamin D process, pass through glass windows easily.   Their longer wavelength goes deeper into the skin and it can damage collagen and elastin fibers, cause premature aging, skin cancer, the loss of elasticity, wrinkling, brown spots, broken blood vessels, and a leathery texture.  Studies have found that people who work indoors have an increased risk of getting melanoma or other skin cancers.  The evidence today is compelling that Vitamin D may prevent, as well as treat, some cancers, but UVB rays, the ultraviolet rays that help the body to manufacture Vitamin D, are not available to people who work indoors.  Consequently, many of them have low Vitamin D levels.

How do we get enough Vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is found in egg yolks, as well as fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, and tuna. Our grocery stores sell many Vitamin D fortified foods, including milk and orange juice. But numerous studies have shown that what we eat isn’t enough to provide us with adequate amounts of this nutrient, so supplementing with natural Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is needed for most children and adults. For babies, breast milk is a very poor source of Vitamin D, especially if the mother is deficient in this nutrient, and most baby formulas are lacking in sufficient levels of Vitamin D also.  We should avoid supplementing with synthetic D2 because it isn’t absorbed as well as D3. (Unfortunately, this is what many doctors prescribe to their patients who have Vitamin D deficiency.)  Current government recommendations for Vitamin D are 600 IUs for children and adults, and 800 IUs for adults over 70, but a growing number of scientists and health care providers believe these amounts are not high enough.  Many doctors are now routinely prescribing 2,000 IUs of D3 daily for their adult patients, especially women over 50. 

Recommendations from The Vitamin D Council

“US Government recommended Adequate Intake for Vitamin D is too low to receive many of vitamin D's benefits. The problem with current recommendations is that Vitamin D influences a much wider array of physiological processes other than simply maintaining bone health and normal calcium metabolism. For proper functioning, a healthy human body utilizes around 3,000-5,000 IUs of Vitamin D per day--indicating the current recommended intakes are not high enough to raise and/or maintain the Vitamin D levels necessary for proper health.“

The Vitamin D Council recommends that healthy children under 1 year should take 1,000 IUs a day of Vitamin D3, healthy children over 1 year should take 1,000 IUs per each 25 pounds of body weight each day, healthy adults and adolescents should take a minimum of 5,000 IUs each day, and “children and adults with chronic health conditions such as autism, MS, cancer, heart disease, or obesity may need as much as double these amounts.”   The Vitamin D Council warns that “People with the following conditions should only take Vitamin D with the guidance of a knowledgeable physician:  hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis, granulomatous TB, and some cancers.” (Vitamin D3 supplementation could cause their calcium levels to become dangerously high.)

What form of Vitamin D3 should you take?

For best absorption of this fat soluble nutrient, many doctors recommend the oily gel capsule form of Vitamin D3 instead of tablets or hard capsules filled with powder, and that it be taken with foods containing some fat.  Babies and young children can take liquid Vitamin D drops. Prescription drugs may interfere with your body absorbing Vitamin D3 supplements, so don’t take them at the same time.  Wait at least two hours. 

Make sure you’re not deficient in Vitamin D

A simple blood test can measure how much Vitamin D your body is storing.  There are two Vitamin D tests used today:  The 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is also called 25(OH)D, tests the inactive form of Vitamin D.  The 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, also called 1,25(OH)D, tests the active form of Vitamin D.  Ask your doctor for the 25(OH)D test.  It’s the only one at this time that will tell you if you’re getting enough Vitamin D.  I know many people who have taken the 1,25(OH)D test, and despite their bodies being low in Vitamin D, their levels came back normal. It even happened to me. The Vitamin D Council suggests doctors look for numbers falling within 40-80 ng/mL with a target of 50 when determining if Vitamin D levels are high enough.  Some doctors believe this is too high, and 35 should be the target number.
The sun is now our friend when it comes to getting our Vitamin D

The epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency in this world, and scientists linking it to serious, and even fatal diseases, has convinced many physicians that moderate sun exposure is actually good for us because it’s a safe and effective way to obtain Vitamin D.  After being warned for years that we should stay out of the sun whenever possible, and slather on the sunscreen when we can’t avoid being in it, UVB rays are now considered to be essential to our health, and we’re being encouraged to go outdoors in natural sunlight--without sunscreen--several days a week between 10AM and 2PM, with at least 40% of our skin exposed.  Recommendations for how long we should stay in the sun vary, but many doctors suggest that if we have a dark complexion our sun exposure should be 30 minutes, and 15 minutes if our complexion is light. Most scientists believe that there is a definite connection between repeated sunburns and the development of melanoma or other skin cancers, so we must always stop our sun exposure before we begin to burn.

But many doctors who are now advocating safe sun exposure don’t seem to be aware that the UVB rays—the only ultraviolet rays that help our bodies make Vitamin D—can’t penetrate the atmosphere year round in the regions where most of us live. While the more harmful UVA rays shine down on us all year round, UVB rays are unable to reach us in fall or winter, or during cloudy and rainy days, even if it’s in spring and summer. This means that for many, getting Vitamin D through sun exposure is only possible a few months a year. The Vitamin D Council’s website provides information that may help you to successfully use the sun for Vitamin D production based on latitude, the season, the time of day, and your skin type.

Unfortunately, even if you have managed to calculate your perfect time for receiving UVB rays, there are some scientists who believe your sunbathing may do little to increase your body’s stores of Vitamin D if you’re one of those people who practices good hygiene.  When ultraviolet B rays shine on us, a cholesterol derivative in our skin is then changed by our skin into Vitamin D. The Vitamin D that has formed on the surface of our skin must be absorbed into the bloodstream. Many scientists believe that this conversion can actually take as much as 48 hours, and if you bathe or shower before that time is up you are washing away much of the Vitamin D created by your exposure to the sun’s UVB rays. They suggest we just wash areas like our arm pits during those 48 hours.   These scientists may be correct, but most of us are not going to be willing to take their advice and avoid showering or bathing for up to two days in order to increase our body’s Vitamin D levels.  

So, even though our doctors are now telling us to head outside for our Vitamin D, few of us are going to be able to rely on daily sun exposure as a consistent way to increase our Vitamin D levels. Fortunately, we can take Vitamin D3 supplements.  If we do choose to replenish our Vitamin D through UVB rays, we also need to supplement with Vitamin D3 during the many months when these rays from the sun are too weak. And taking Vitamin D3 year round may be a necessity because many individuals continue to remain deficient in Vitamin D, despite receiving moderate sun exposure when UVB rays are most effective.  This is common with people over 60, because as we age, our skin’s ability to convert UVB rays into Vitamin D diminishes.

For proper utilization of Vitamin D, it’s vital that we get adequate amounts of these important Vitamin D co-factors in our Diets—Magnesium, Zinc, Vitamin A, Boron, and Vitamin K2

Unfortunately, most people who are taking Vitamin D3 supplements to address Vitamin D deficiency aren’t being advised by their doctors that it’s extremely important to also take these Vitamin D co-factors.   Vitamin D3, taken alone, can set in motion the calcification of soft tissue, and also cause us to be deficient in magnesium.  We need to make sure that our diets always contain healthy amounts of magnesium, zinc, Vitamin A, Boron, and K2, but for this article I am going to focus mainly on co-factors magnesium and K2.

Magnesium’s role as a Vitamin D co-factor

As the worldwide Vitamin D deficiency has become big news, we’ve been hearing that one of the reasons we must keep our Vitamin D levels optimized is because it’s Vitamin D in its active form that enhances the body’s absorption of calcium. But we’re rarely told how magnesium also plays a crucial role in this process. It’s magnesium that helps convert the vitamin D we get from supplements or the sun into Vitamin D’s active form in our blood.

Unfortunately, this conversion process depletes our body’s magnesium levels. With so many of us already low in this mineral, scientists point to magnesium deficiency as the reason it’s common for Vitamin D deficient patients to continue to have abnormally low blood levels of Vitamin D, despite taking Vitamin D3 supplements for months. But most doctors assume that their patients are simply having trouble absorbing Vitamin D3 supplements, and will suggest they increase their Vitamin D3 doses.
Some people do have difficulty with the absorption of Vitamin D3 supplements.  Often it’s because of a poor quality formula, or their bodies do better with gel caps rather than tablets.  But for many patients, the real problem is magnesium deficiency, and adding more Vitamin D3 in an attempt to raise Vitamin D blood test numbers is just going to worsen this problem. 

Most Americans are magnesium deficient

I’ve read articles written by several doctors who are convinced that the current worldwide Vitamin D deficiency may actually be due to a worldwide magnesium deficiency. They believe that as much as 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and this is because magnesium has been removed from the water most of us drink, it’s missing from the refined grains and sugars that have replaced the natural versions we once ate, and our crops are grown with chemical fertilizers that lack magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency can also be caused by stress, diarrhea, sweating, coffee, alcohol, salt, and soft drinks. Soft drinks contain phosphoric acid which binds with the magnesium in your digestive tract and makes the magnesium unavailable to your body.  So, even if you are getting enough magnesium in your diet daily, consuming soft drinks can cause you to be deficient in magnesium.   A few years ago an orthopedic surgeon told me that he was seeing more children with fractures than he had ever seen before.  It makes sense. More children are drinking soda than ever before.  We need magnesium for strong bones. Calcium alone does not do the job.  The more soda children drink, the less magnesium available for their bodies, and the consequence is weaker bones. It’s the same with adults.  Soda is a bad idea for any women or men who want to keep their bones healthy.  If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, drinking soda is only going to exacerbate the problem.
Antibiotics, high blood pressure medications, proton pump inhibitors taken for acid reflux (such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid), and diuretics (which also deplete the body of potassium) can lower our magnesium levels.  And without healthy magnesium levels, our bodies can’t convert Vitamin D to its active form effectively.
Are you experiencing a side effect of taking Vitamin D or is it magnesium deficiency?

There are physicians who believe that the side effects their patients occasionally get when they take Vitamin D3 supplements--headaches, racing heart, insomnia, fatigue, ringing in the ears, metallic taste in the mouth, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, bone pain, and feeling anxious--are not a reaction to Vitamin D3.  These patients are actually experiencing magnesium deficiency symptoms as their bodies attempt to use their already depleted magnesium stores to turn their Vitamin D3 supplement into Vitamin D’s active form. 

Many doctors consider magnesium to be the “Miracle Nutrient”

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation: “Magnesium is so important to so many vital body functions, and its deficiency is integrally involved in so many diseases, that more than one researcher has dubbed magnesium a miracle in its ability to resolve or improve numerous disorders.”

Magnesium plays a critical role in energy production, glucose metabolism, the formation of teeth and bone, nerve and muscle impulses, blood coagulation, cell formation, and nutrient metabolism.   Over 350 enzymes in the body require magnesium to do their jobs properly. Magnesium is responsible for thousands of biochemical reactions each day.    

Magnesium and pregnancy

Magnesium plays an important role in regulating blood sugar levels and insulin levels during pregnancy.  It helps build strong teeth and bones in the baby, and reduces the leg cramping that is common in pregnant women.  Magnesium deficiency during pregnancy can affect fetal growth and development. It can put women at risk for preeclampsia (high blood pressure), and premature birth.
Testing for magnesium deficiency

There are many scientists who believe that magnesium deficiency may be the cause for more diseases than any other nutrient. Magnesium deficiency has been referred to as “The Silent Epidemic.”  Surprisingly, at this time, there continues to be no blood tests available that accurately check magnesium levels in the body.

Health conditions associated with magnesium deficiency

Acid reflux, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s Disease, angina, anxiety disorders, arthritis, asthma, autism, autoimmune disorders, back pain, cellulite, calcifications in the body, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, congested heart failure, constipation, cystitis, dental cavities, depression, diabetes, eating disorders, emphysema, eye twitching, facial tics, fatigue, fibromyalgia, hearing loss related to noise, heart arrhythmia, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, hypoglycemia, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, menopause symptoms, mental confusion, migraines, mitral valve prolapse, multiple sclerosis, muscle cramping, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, neck pain, obesity, osteoporosis, palpitations, panic attacks, Parkinson’s Disease, Premenstrual Syndrome, Primary Pulmonary Hypertension, restless leg syndrome, stroke, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, swallowing difficulties, thyroid disorders, and vertigo.

Many scientists believe that magnesium protects against Metabolic Syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.  Magnesium also plays a role in energy metabolism.  When they exercise, people who are low in magnesium will have higher heart rates and will use more oxygen than people whose magnesium levels are normal.

How to get enough magnesium

Some of the foods that contain Magnesium include green leafy vegetables, seaweed, bananas, spinach, tofu, chocolate, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, artichokes, figs, beans, shrimp, avocados, brown rice, oat bran, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, brazil nuts,  and pine nuts.
Because most people do not get enough magnesium through their diets today, many physicians recommend a daily magnesium supplement.  Magnesium glycinate, magnesium taurate, magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, and chelates such as malate, succinate, and fumarate are usually well absorbed.  Magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate are a better choice for people who get loose stools from taking magnesium. Magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate, magnesium gluconate, and magnesium sulfate are poorly absorbed, and should be avoided. The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 420 mg a day for men over 30, and 320 mg a day for women over 30.  But many doctors think this is not enough, and suggest that their patients take anywhere from 500 mg to 1,000 mg daily. A hot bath in Epsom Salts is a relaxing way for your body to absorb a little magnesium too.


Check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements if you have heart disease or kidney disease, other health problems, and to avoid any interactions with your medications.  Magnesium can reduce the absorption of antibiotics, so you need to take it approximately two hours after or two hours before you take your medication.

Vitamin K’s role as a Vitamin D co-factor

Once Vitamin D is converted to its active form with the help of magnesium, it’s critical that the calcium that is being absorbed gets to the proper places in the body. That’s when Vitamin K2, another one of the important co-factors of Vitamin D, goes to work.  Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2 are members of the Vitamin K family.   Vitamin K1, also known as Phylloquinone, is used by the liver to activate the proteins necessary for blood clotting. The largest amounts of Vitamin K1 are found in leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and mustard greens. 

Vitamin K2, also known as Menaquinone, gets calcium to the bones and teeth where it’s supposed to go. (Magnesium also helps this happen.)  Without adequate amounts of Vitamin K2, calcium in the body can cause calcification to soft tissue and compromise our health. Fortunately, Vitamin K2 also has the ability to reduce calcifications that are already present.  A number of studies have found that Vitamin K2 can protect us from the diseases that are caused by calcium being deposited where it isn’t supposed to go--arterial calcification (hardening of the arteries), cancer, breast calcification, calcification of the carotid and vertebral arteries (which could lead to stroke), heart disease, kidney stones, heel spurs, dementia, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and vertebral fractures.  Vitamin K2 is found in fermented foods like cheese and natto.

Are we less likely to get cancer if we get enough Vitamin K?

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (March 2010) found  that study participants  whose Vitamin K2 intake was high had a 14 % reduced risk of developing cancer, and were also 28% less likely to die from cancer than study participants who had low Vitamin K2 intake.   Another European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study published earlier in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2008) found that Vitamin K2 may play a role in reducing the risk of prostate cancer by 35%. Vitamin K1 showed no cancer protection in these two studies.
But we can’t rule out Vitamin K1 when it comes to protecting us from cancer. A 2010 study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota showed a lower risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in people whose diets contained higher levels of Vitamin K1. 

Vitamin K2 and autism

Vitamin K deficiency can result in calcium going unregulated in the body, and calcium oxalate crystals can form. Autistic children often have calcium oxalate crystals.  Some researchers theorize that this excessive calcium is causing neurons in the brains of autistic children to over fire, and adding K2 would relax their brains.

Vitamin K2 and pregnancy

Vitamin K2 deficiency can affect craniofacial and dental development in the fetus.  It is also associated with microcephaly, and neural tube defects.  Scientists are recommending that breastfeeding mothers make sure they get enough Vitamin K2 also.

Vitamin K2 and our bones

Several studies in Japan have demonstrated increased bone mass, and even reversal of bone loss in people with osteoporosis who took Vitamin K2.  Additionally, vertebral fractures were reduced by 60% and non-vertebral fractures were reduced by 80%.

Most of us are deficient in Vitamin K

Many physicians are warning that Vitamin K, like Vitamin D and magnesium, is another nutrient in which there is worldwide deficiency.  It’s estimated that approximately 80% of Americans do not get enough K2 in their diets.  There’s also reduced absorption of Vitamin K among people who take antibiotics, several cholesterol lowering drugs known as bile sequestrants, and in patients who have illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, liver disease, gallbladder disease, and Cystic Fibrosis.

What form of Vitamin K2 should we take and how much?

Vitamin K2 in the Menaquinone-7 form is the supplement that many doctors recommend because it’s longer acting and better absorbed. When we take Vitamin D3 supplements, we cause the body to make proteins that are designed to move calcium to areas that benefit our health, and keep calcium from areas that can harm our health. These proteins are dependent on Vitamin K2 and can’t do their job until Vitamin K2 is available.

Many doctors recommend 150 mcg to 200 mcg of Vitamin K2 daily when we take 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of Vitamin D3. But if we are taking larger dosages of Vitamin D3, our bodies will require larger dosages of Vitamin K2 to get these important proteins activated.  Scientific literature has shown no toxic effects when taking Vitamin K2.

How can you determine if you are Vitamin K2 deficient?

There are currently no blood tests available to test for Vitamin K2 deficiency.  Doctors suggest that if you have diabetes, heart disease, or osteoporosis, you may very well be deficient in this nutrient. Our bodies don’t store Vitamin K and we can become deficient within a week.


It’s recommended that you consult with your physician before adding Vitamin K2, especially if you’re taking blood thinning drugs.

A new attitude about calcium supplements

As new research continues to come out linking too much calcium in our diets to an increase in strokes and heart attacks, many doctors are now recommending that we stop taking calcium supplements and get our calcium from food only.  In 2011, a study published in the British Medical Journal warned that "Risks outweigh benefits for calcium supplements."  The authors of the study cautioned that “Even a small increase in incidence of cardiovascular disease could translate into a large burden of disease in the population." They also "suggest that a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is warranted."

For many years, our doctors, our government, companies selling calcium supplements, and the media have not been shy in their quest to get the message out to us about how important calcium is for healthy, strong bones. We’ve been encouraged to take calcium supplements faithfully, and eat lots of dairy products too. We’ve been told we need between 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium daily, though Great Britain recommends only 700 mg, and the World Health Organization suggests even less—500 mg. The food industry has even brought us calcium fortified products because our calcium levels matter to them very much too. But no one seems to have been concerned that this emphasis on taking large amounts of calcium is upsetting the proper balance between magnesium and calcium in the body, and if people are already low in magnesium, as so many Americans are, they have worsened their magnesium deficiency.  In many new studies, researchers are concluding that high levels of calcium may actually be the cause of osteoporosis and bone fractures.  And some scientists are now warning that our calcium supplements may be creating a build up of calcium in the soft tissues of our bodies, which could become a real threat to our health.

Unfortunately, the Vitamin D3 supplements we take to avoid Vitamin D deficiency can cause this calcification increase too.  Our Vitamin D supplements enhance the body’s absorption of calcium, which should be a good thing, but Vitamin D is useless by itself when it comes to getting calcium to our bones where it’s supposed to go. It needs the help of Vitamin K2 and magnesium. When Vitamin K2 and magnesium are taken with Vitamin D supplementation, calcium can be properly utilized by the bones, otherwise it can cause dangerous calcifications in our bodies.  But not many doctors who have been prescribing calcium to their patients for years, and those who are now prescribing Vitamin D3, are aware of the necessity of supplementing with K2 and magnesium too. As more Americans are put on Vitamin D3 because of deficiencies, and some continue to take calcium supplements as well, I’m concerned that the failure to include Vitamin K2 and magnesium will result in a large increase of serious calcification-related health problems in our country-- such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke. And Americans will continue to have bone health diseases too.

A few recent studies claim people at highest risk of dying from cardiovascular disease already have the same higher levels of Vitamin D in their bodies that many doctors are now telling us we need for good health

Some doctors are using these studies to warn us that supplementing with Vitamin D may actually be bad for us. That it might even cause cardiovascular disease. I can’t agree with them. There are also numerous studies that show higher Vitamin D levels protect us from cardiovascular disease.  But there’s a definite reason people can have Vitamin D levels that are in the 35 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL range that many doctors are recommending, and they can still get cardiovascular disease.  It’s all about Vitamin K2.  If Vitamin D testing showed these study subjects had high levels of Vitamin D in their bodies, then they also must have had adequate magnesium supplies to turn the Vitamin D they received from food and/or supplements into its active form.  That means their bodies were now absorbing calcium better too. But where was that calcium going? 

The Vitamin K2 levels of the people in these studies are not considered, but Vitamin K2 is the nutrient that escorts calcium to the bones. And because the majority of people in this world are believed to be deficient in Vitamin K2, it’s most likely the calcium in the bodies of these study subjects wasn’t going to their bones. It was going to soft tissue, causing calcifications--and the result is cardiovascular disease, and other serious health problems. Unfortunately, too many research studies on Vitamin D fail to consider the importance of Vitamin K2, and magnesium also, leading some researchers to simply dismiss the value of our having healthy Vitamin D levels.

Is substituting the sun’s UVB rays with a visit to the tanning salon also a good way for us to get our Vitamin D?

In order for tanning beds to help our bodies manufacture Vitamin D, the bulbs must be predominantly UVB.  But most commercial tanning beds use much higher levels of UVA rays (95%) than UVB rays (5%), which makes them ineffective when it comes to the production of optimal levels of Vitamin D. Tanning salons don’t consider UVB rays to be desirable because they have a short wavelength and can cause a sunburn very quickly.  UVA rays are preferred because their longer wavelength results in less burning and the desired golden brown tan. But they are also much more damaging to the skin.  The majority of commercial tanning beds use magnetic ballasts to generate light.  These ballasts create electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which scientists believe can cause cancer.  Safer electronic ballasts are available but are not widely used.

Even though the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer declared in 2009 that tanning beds are "carcinogenic to humans,” approximately 28 million Americans continue to go to tanning salons each year. It’s a business that is reported to earn $5 billion annually. And today, visiting the neighborhood tanning salon to replenish Vitamin D levels has become the latest excuse to get a tan.  The majority of doctors in this country are troubled by this trend because they believe that commercial tanning beds currently come with too many known and unknown risks.  We can’t be certain that our exposure today to their Ultraviolet A rays and electromagnetic fields won’t result in the development of serious health problems for us in the future.

There are also a small number of doctors in this country, concerned with what they see as a growing Vitamin D deficiency pandemic, who advocate the use of “safer” tanning beds. These tanning beds emit UVB rays, use electronic ballasts, and most appear to be sold for home use only.  This has become a hugely controversial subject in the medical community, with several doctors using the media to issue strict warnings that all tanning beds are dangerous, and none should ever be used as a method for increasing the body’s Vitamin D levels. 

Until science comes up with something better

I’ve reviewed thousands of pages of Vitamin D deficiency research from diverse sources, and as I see it, based on what I’ve read, the best, easiest, and safest way for children and adults to obtain the important health benefits of optimized Vitamin D levels is with Vitamin D3 supplements, Vitamin D’s important co-factors—Vitamin A, boron, zinc, and especially Vitamin K2 and magnesium, and whenever possible, moderate exposure to natural sunlight during the times of the year when the UVB rays where we live are at their strongest.

Copyright © 2013 by Diane Bryan

The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is not intended as nutritional or medical advice for individual problems.