Beginner Plan: Supplements
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Dr. Mercola's Nutrition Plan
It is my goal to limit supplements. I believe you can obtain most of the nutrition you need from wholesome organic food. There are some exceptions, but it is quite rare that someone would really benefit from a shopping bag full of supplements, especially the synthetic varieties.
Lesson 1: The importance of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is not “just a vitamin” that’s necessary for strong bones. Rather, vitamin D is the only known substrate for a potent, pleiotropic (meaning it produces multiple effects), repair and maintenance steroid hormone that serves multiple gene-regulatory functions in your body.
Every cell in your body has its own DNA library that contains information needed to address virtually every kind of stimulus it may encounter, and the master key to enter this library is activated vitamin D.
This is why vitamin D functions in so many different tissues, and affects such a large number of different diseases and health conditions. So far, scientists have found about 3,000 genes that are upregulated by vitamin D.
Receptors that respond to the vitamin have been found in almost every type of human cell, from your brain to your bones. And researchers keep finding health benefits from vitamin D in virtually every area they look. Optimizing your vitamin D levels can help you to prevent as many as 16 different types of cancer as well as reduce your risk of a wide variety of illnesses and ailments, including:
Vitamin D is found in food like milk, eggs, fish and fortified orange juice, but you only get an average of 250 to 300 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day from dietary factors alone, which is not enough to maintain optimal levels. In the next few sections below, I’ll discuss three different ways to obtain your vitamin D; from proper sun exposure, a safe tanning bed, or a vitamin D supplement. Each of these options has important caveats that need to be understood and followed in order to be truly beneficial.
For additional information about vitamin D, please review our vitamin D section for more information on this important topic.
UVB by Sunlight or a Safe Tanning Bed are Your Best Choices for Optimizing Vitamin D
Many are interested in the guidelines for vitamin D supplementation, but it's important to realize that the IDEAL way to optimize your vitamin D levels is not by taking a pill, but rather allowing your body to do what it was designed to do—create vitamin D from sun exposure. There are a number of reasons to opt for sun exposure over a supplement:
- It is more natural. Our ancestors optimized their vitamin D levels by sun exposure, not by swallowing it in foods. Although vitamin D is in some animal foods it is in relatively low quantities and to my knowledge there are no known ancestral populations that thrived on oral vitamin D sources.
- When you expose your skin to the sun, your skin also synthesizes high amounts of cholesterol sulfate, which is very important for cardiovascular health. Sulfur deficiency also promotes obesity and related health problems like diabetes
- You cannot overdose when getting your vitamin D from sun exposure, as your body has the ability to self-regulate production and only make what it needs
- Research published in June 2012 indicates there are health benefits of UV radiation besides vitamin D production. For example, pathways activated by UV radiation can enhance your mood and energy, treat skin diseases, and relieve the pain of fibromyalgia, just to name a few
How to Know if You’re Getting Vitamin D from Your Sun Exposure
The caveat here is that not all sun exposure will allow for vitamin D production. The key point to understand is that sunlight is composed of about 1500 wavelengths, but the only wavelength that makes your body produce vitamin D are UVB-rays, when they hit unexposed skin. The UVB-rays from the sun must pass through the atmosphere and reach where you are on the earth in order for this to take place. This obviously does not occur in the winter for most of us, but the sun's rays are also impeded during a fair amount of the year for people living in temperate climates.
So how do you know if you have entered into the summer season and into the time of year, for your location, where enough UVB is actually able to penetrate the atmosphere to allow for vitamin D production in your skin?
Due to the physics and wavelength of UVB rays, they will only penetrate the atmosphere when the sun is above an angle of about 50° from the horizon. When the sun is lower than 50°, the ozone layer reflects the UVB-rays but let through the longer UVA-rays.
So the first step is to determine the latitude and longitude of your location. You can easily do this on Google Earth, or if you are in the U.S. you can use the TravelMath Latitude Longitude Calculator to find your latitude and longitude. Once you have obtained that you can go to the U.S. Navy site to calculate a table to determine the times and days of the year that the sun is above 50 degrees from the horizon. Translated to the date and time of some places on the globe, it means for example: In my hometown of Chicago, the UVB rays are not potentially present until March 25, and by September 16th it is not possible to produce any vitamin D from the sun in Chicago. Please understand it is only theoretically possible to get UVB rays during those times. If it happens to be cloudy or raining, the clouds will also block the UVB rays. For a more detailed understanding of this, please view the following video, and/or read through the corresponding article.
Even Easier if You Have Apple system.
Alternatively, if you have an iPhone or iPad you can download a free app called D Minder, which will make all the calculations for you. It was made by an Apple developer who was motivated to simplify the process after he watched the video above.
From a health perspective it doesn't make much sense to expose your skin to the sun when it is lower than 50 degrees above the horizon because you will not receive any valuable UVB rays, but you will expose yourself to the more dangerous and potentially deadly UVA rays. UVA's have a longer wavelength than UVB and can more easily penetrate the ozone layer and other obstacles (like clouds and pollution) on their way from the sun to the earth. UVA is what radically increases your risk of skin cancer and photoaging of your skin. So while it will give you a tan, unless the companion UVB rays are available you're likely doing more harm than good and should probably stay out of the sun to protect your skin.
During the times of the year when UVB rays are not present where you live you essentially have two options: You can use a safe tanning bed or you can swallow oral vitamin D3.
What You Need to Know about Safe Tanning Beds
During the summer months, you can generally get enough vitamin D from just spending some time outside every day. Under optimal environmental exposures your body can produce about 20,000 IU of vitamin D per day with full body exposure, about 5,000 IU with 50 percent of your body exposed, and as much as 1,000 IU with just 10 percent of your body exposed.
In the winter months however, and/or times of the year when insufficient amounts of UVB rays reach your location, you will most likely not get enough vitamin D. In that case, I recommend using a safe tanning bed, which is still better than oral vitamin D.
One of the caveats here is to make sure you’re not being exposed to harmful EMF exposure. Most tanning equipment, and nearly all of the early beds from which these studies were conducted, use magnetic ballasts to generate light. These magnetic ballasts are well known sources of EMF fields that can contribute to cancer. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts.
When Supplementing, Get the Correct Form of Vitamin D
Lastly, if neither sun exposure or a safe tanning bed is a viable option, you should use a supplement, but be sure to choose the right form of vitamin D. The one you want is the natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the same vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunshine. It is important to avoid vitamin D2 (Drisdol) as that is not the form your body makes and it is far less effective than D3.
What’s worse, research has shown that vitamin D2 supplementation actually increased the relative risk of death by two percent, compared to vitamin D3, which reduced the relative mortality risk by six percent.
I strongly recommend you monitor your blood vitamin D levels regularly when taking oral vitamin D supplements to make sure you’re staying within the optimal range. This is best done by a nutritionally oriented physician. It is very important that they order the correct test as there are two that closely resemble each other: 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D.
25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, is the better marker of overall D status. It is this marker that is most strongly associated with overall health.
However, please realize that the “normal” 25-hydroxyvitamin D lab range is between 20-56 ng/ml. As you can see in the chart below, this conventional range is really a sign of deficiency, and is too broad to be ideal. In fact, your vitamin D level should never be below 32 ng/ml, and any levels below 20 ng/ml are considered serious deficiency states, increasing your risk of as many as 16 different cancers and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few.
The OPTIMAL value that you’re looking for is 50-70 ng/ml. This range applies for everyone; children, adolescents, adults and seniors, and are based on healthy people in tropical or subtropical parts of the world, where they are receiving healthy sun exposures. It seems more than reasonable to assume that these values are in fact reflective of an optimal human requirement.
General Vitamin D Dosage Recommendations
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Based on the most recent research, it appears as though most adults need about 8,000 IU's of vitamin D a day in order to get their serum levels above 40 ng/ml. Children under the age of five need about 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight.
However, it’s important to realize that vitamin D requirements are highly individual, as your vitamin D status is dependent on numerous factors, such as the color of your skin, your location, and how much sunshine you’re exposed to on a regular basis. So, although these recommendations may put you closer to the ballpark of what most people likely need, it is simply impossible to make a blanket recommendation that will cover everyone’s needs. The only way to truly determine your individual dosage needs is by getting your vitamin D levels tested, and adjust your dosage accordingly to make sure you’re staying within the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml.
||35 units per pound per day
|Age 5 - 10
|Age 18 - 30
There is no way to know if the above recommendations are correct. The ONLY way to know is to test your blood. You might need 4-5 times the amount recommended above. Ideally your blood level of 25 OH D should be 60ng/ml.
Lesson 2: Start Beneficial Bacteria
Did you know that 90 percent of the genetic material in your body is not yours?
It’s from the bacteria that are primarily living in your gut. There are about 100 trillion bacteria in your gut and you only have 10 trillion of your cells, so collectively they outnumber you 10 to 1. These bacteria provide a large number of incredibly important benefits such as:
- Optimizing your immune system and helps you resist infections
- Helping you digest your food
- Help detoxify heavy metals and chemical you have been exposed to
- Important source of B vitamins and vitamin K2
- Balances your nervous system and is an important source of neurotransmitters
One of the most profound health strategies you can implement would be to optimize your gut flora. Eliminating sugars, grains and processed foods is a powerful first step in this process
In the beginning phase of the program it would be easiest to supplement with a high quality high potency probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria; the essential inhabitants of your gut that help to control the yeast and bad bacteria that also coexist in your gut. They’re also crucial for proper digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. However, later in the program, or whenever you are ready, it would be far better to start using fermented foods like fermented vegetables.
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With beneficial bacteria it is in many cases a numbers game. Two high potency probiotic capsules can supply about 100 billion organisms. However if you take those two capsules and properly ferment a quart of vegetables as discussed in the video above than you can massively increase the numbers and get about one hundred times the amount. So a typical 2-3 ounce serving can provide up to 10 TRILLION bacteria or about 10% of the entire bacteria population in your gut.
When starting fermented foods however, it is best to start very slowly, like one half teaspoon a day, and gradually working up to several ounces a day over 1-2 weeks depending on your tolerance. Some people will pass gas during the adjustment period but this is a temporary response.
Lesson 3: Be careful with Tylenol.
If you take Tylenol regularly, you should be on N-acetyl cysteine to prevent organ damage.
Lesson 4: Smell your vitamins.
It is important to smell your vitamins. If they smell bad, you should not take them. It is your body's signal that they are not good for you. If you do take many supplements, a convenient way to store and transport your supplements is a small fishing tackle box (available at sports stores).