Vitamin D Dilemma – To D or Not To D

UPDATE: There is no safe form of sunbathing.

Radiological health expert Daniel Hayes who works at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recent published on the subject of low dose radiation and the possibility that a form of vitamin D could be the key to protecting us from background radiation and perhaps save lives following a nuclear incident or terrorist attack involving a so-called dirty bomb.

Hayes explains that calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, could be the oral agent, that medics have been searching for to provide a quick, simple, and inexpensive way to protect us when the warning sirens sound.

Having spoken to various researchers with markedly different views on vitamin D, its benefits and its potentially detrimental effects on health, I wasn’t too sure about how adding yet another dietary supplement to our daily intake would be beneficial. I asked Hayes to expand.

“One should get vitamin D3 either from solar irradiation of the skin or from dietary supplementation,” he told me, “I personally take 2000 IU daily which is obtained without a physician’s prescription…2000 IU is definitely safe, I can dig up the documentation.”

There are claims from some quarters that getting plenty of sun is a good thing, and they’ve published a guide, which I mentioned in a post on how to sunbathe safely, but the cancer research charities suggest that really there is no safe way to get a sun tan and that a dietary supplement of vitamin D would be a much safer alternative to increasing one’s exposure to the sun.

Depending on where you live in the world, the amount of sun to which you are exposed varies considerably. If you live in the southern hemisphere, in a place such as Cancun, you would be exposed to much more sun than if you are in the northern hemisphere, somewhere like Alaska. Also, this is the same if you travel widely. If you visit places like the hotel Punta Cana you would again be likely to be exposed to more of the sun’s rays than if you vacation in a colder climate. To be clear, you can absorb sun from any location but in a climate where being outside and exposing your skin is more favourable you have a greater chance of spending that time in the sun.

However, the only prescription vitamin D preparation available in the US and the US is vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). “Vitamin D2 should not be regarded as a nutrient suitable for supplementation or fortification,” Hayes says, “physicians resorting to the use of vitamin D2 should be aware of its markedly lower potency and shorter duration of action relative to vitamin D3.” As such, he asserts that you should get vitamin D3 either from the sun or through dietary supplementation.

Unfortunately, vitamin D, being several different compounds with different physiological activities, is not a clearcut medical case. There are some who see it as a “clap-hands-hosanna”, but there are others, particularly scientists associated with the Marshall Protocol, and in the California non-profit association Autoimmunity Research Foundation, who see it as something to be avoided.

Biomedical researcher Trevor Marshall, who runs the ARF, has produced what has been described as the first working model of vitamin D metabolism. Proal explains that the model, which demonstrates the complexity of vitamin D metabolism, emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between the different forms of vitamin D. According to ARF scientists, the form of vitamin D that Hayes recommends and takes himself – that derived from supplements and excessive sun exposure – is apparently converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin-D or calcidiol. “Unfortunately,” says Proal, “molecular biologists have long realized that 25-hydroxyvitamin-D3 is actually a potent secosteroid. Marshall’s research indicates that, like corticosteroid medications, it actually slows the immune response, and this ultimately allows chronic bacterial infection to exist uninhibited, which could be the ultimate cause of such inflammation. “Under such circumstances,” says Proal, “25-hydroxyvitamin D’s ability to slow the immune response allows for short-term relief, but aggravates the disease over the long-term by allowing chronic pathogens to proliferate with much greater ease.”

The difference between cacitriol and calcidiol boils down to the manner in which they bind the Vitamin D Receptor VDR – a receptor that largely controls the activity of the innate immune response and the transcription of hundreds, and possibly thousands of genes. While calcitriol activates the VDR, Marshall’s in silico data demonstrates that calcidiol has the opposite effect. So according to ARF researchers, Hayes may be right about about calcitriol’s ability to activate genes that allow for protection against radiation. But, taking vitamin D orally or basking in the sun will produce a form of vitamin D that has the exact opposite effect of the beneficial results that Hayes predicts.

Reporting for, Stephen Strauss explains how Marshall researchers looked at more than 1000 people with a host of autoimmune and related diseases. “When combined with a particular drug treatment program, people who consciously tried not to take vitamin D and stayed out of the sun showed an often-dramatic reduction in symptoms. Dramatic means a reduction of 81 per cent in symptoms for people suffering from conditions ranging from Type 2 diabetes, to rheumatoid arthritis, to multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and Crohn’s disease.”

It seems that some forms of vitamin D have steroidal activity and rather than helping fight disease it modulates the immune system and potentially increases inflammation. Marshall explained the apparent paradox in the journal BioEssays:

“For half a century, medical science has been noting the association between vitamin D serum levels and disease. What developed has been a concept of ‘vitamin D deficiency’ based solely on the notion that ‘low’ vitamin D serum levels somehow cause disease processes. But this ignores the alternative hypothesis — that the disease processes themselves regulate the vitamin D metabolism —that the observed ‘low’ values of vitamin D in disease are a result of the disease process, not the cause.”

I asked Amy Proal, a medical researcher and an advocate of the Marshall Protocol, for her thoughts on vitamin D. “Who is getting better as the medical community dishes out more and more vitamin D,” she asked in response. She points to a report in The New York Times that says children as young as five years are developing kidney stones and that infant eczema is rising at an alarming rate, these trends and the trend towards obesity, she says are not what one would se with genetic or autoimmune diseases. “They are trends that indicate chronic infection egged on by the use of immmunosuppressive steroids, and vitamin D fortification, among other trends of modern medicine,” she says. The NYT article alludes to the recent melamine in milk scandal in China, but stakes its claim on common salt (sodium chloride) being to blame for the rise in kidney stone incidence in the US.

So, is vitamin D good or bad? Either way, which forms should we allow ourselves to be exposed to and which forms should we really avoid? And, if there’s a radiation incident…

Daniel P. Hayes (2008). The protection afforded by vitamin D against low radiation damage International Journal of Low Radiation, 5 (4) DOI: 10.1504/IJLR.2008.020980

22 thoughts on “Vitamin D Dilemma – To D or Not To D”

  1. Here are few facts about vitamin D. A person has to drink ten big glasses of fortified milk to get the minimum amounts of vitamin D every day also. People with dark skin need 20 to 30 times more of skin exposure to sunlight as fair-skinned people to get the same amount of vitamin D.

  2. This is an interesting blog. Vitamin D plays a very important role in our body to keep bones healthy and also prevent osteoporosis. A sufficient amount of exposure to sunlight is mandatory in order to synthesize vitamin D and sunlight is the best natural resource to gain vitamin D. Studies say that vitamin D requirement differs between children and adults but some people overexpose themselves to sunlight causing an overdose of sunlight and burning their skin and other side effects. So proper information about it is required.

  3. I have further comment on vitamin D. Last winter I took 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 and suffered one really nasty cold and had a case of influenza that put me out of commission for nearly two weeks. This winter I upped the dose to 5,000 IU and have had no cold or flu symptoms whatsoever.

    I did something else of interest. Last November, to reduce my omega-6 fatty acid intake I stopped eating peanut butter. It was peanut butter sandwiches for lunch almost daily since 1972. A presentation by Dr. Bill Lands entitled “Why Omega-6 Fat Matters For Your Health” alerted me to the problem.

    And it was a problem. I’ve been gradually losing mobility over the past decade due to chronic pain in my leg muscles. Now, four months after giving up peanut butter, I can run and jump and get up from a sitting position without effort. Excess omega-6 is likely a problem for many if they are too fond of nuts in general and peanuts in particular. Other sources of omega-6 are mayonnaise, salad dressings, baked goods, and commercially prepared fried foods of all sorts.

  4. I’m a long term sufferer of multiple tick borne pathogen infections living in Southeastern Pennsylvania countryside, and was drawn to sunshine when initially crippled by Lyme, HGE, HME, Babesiosis and Bartonella. The broad spectrum of infectious diseases from tick bite(s?) created a multi-system infection and inflammation that not only paralyzed my body, but included conditions such as encephalomeningitis, stabbing pains, crippling arthritis, fibromyalgia and more. The lack of sunshine in our wintertimes contributed to physical deterioration for me (and my family, also infected), while the springtime and sunnier seasons enabled us to remarkably regain better physical health and return to work, school and play. We’ve all learned that our bodies desire sunshine and are drawn to it now. I strongly believe our bodies know what is best for us, and in analogy of our situation, have determined by nature that the sun’s vitamin D effect is good for us, contrary to what some so-called “scientific” people may state. Too much emphasis has been placed on panel “guidelines” and “scientific or medical suppositions”. Too bad for those who listen to them and not their bodies.

  5. Thanks for the report, David!!

    I agree with your assessment that we have to be more investigative, before arbitrarily jumping on the suppliment train.

    Let me just say that the D2 form of vitamin D is a natural immune suppressive on the Vitamin D Receptors (VDR). D3 is the active form that the body needs to attack infectious organisms. It is broken down by an enzyme if we have too much. Organisms such as L-Form Bacteria (biofilms) can create immune suppressive substances which displaces D3 off the Vitamin D Receptors (VDR) in the immune system. Therefore, D2, D3 and the Bacteria are all competing for spots on the VDR. D3 is the big looser. It apprears that having too much D3 overwelms the enzyme that breaks it down. D3 has an affinity for attaching to the T-cell receptors blocking the normal action of T-cells.

    Basically a negative chain reaction in the immune sytem happens when we have too much D3 in our systems. To protect us from this potential damage and to have a reserve of D3, the body stores this excess D3 in the fat cells and the liver.

    Now enter a suppliment of D3 to the mix and eventually the body has no place to put all this D3 and fails to break it down. The excess D3 shuts down our T-Cell immune system and disease (chronic and undefinable) is the result.

    You should know that current big pharma medicative theory has a love affair with immune suppressive drugs. There is a drug out for MS. In europe, it is being flagged because it is causing brain infections and killing patients. It is doing this because it is an immune suppressive drug.

    Immune suppressants seem to work because patients feel better and the symptoms seem to go away, but the root cause is never addressed. If the patient is lucky (or unlucky) the disease goes into “remission”. Notice that they never say cure, because the disease is still active and will come back with a vegence. There is no more immune system left to block, therefore there is no immune suppressive drug that will work. The end result is bleak for the poor patient.

  6. It’s important to keep in mind that proper nutrition involves teamwork. A heavy dose of one particular nutrient can have detrimental effects if another member of the team is in short supply. There needs to be balance.

    Regarding the assertion that vitamin D3 may inhibit immune response, the major modulators of immune response appear to be sugar and Omega-6 fatty acids

    The important question is not whether vitamin D3 supplementation is harmful or helpful but in what nutritional context is supplementation of benefit?

    And as far as pathogens are concerned, the same sort of sugar/omega-6 oil laced diet that promotes an imbalance of gut flora may also set up an internal environment where vitamin D3 supplementation does more harm than good.

    In my own personal experiment with vitamin D3 supplementation I am taking 5,000 IU this year. Last year the dose was 2,000 IU and I experienced one cold and one bout with influenza. In my younger years when I was not supplementing with anything I never developed flu symptoms and experienced a cold about once every five years.

  7. @Nick No matter how nicely you word an argument, you cannot, repeat cannot, conduct a statistically significant, scientific, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial with you as the only member of the experimental cohort and the one administering the treatment. You might perceive a positive effect, but how do you know that simply popping a sugar pill that someone told you was the “drug” wouldn’t have had just the same effect? You cannot.

  8. I have some serious problems with once again being encourage to become an unwitting experiment in RAH RAH science. Those doing these glowing reports on the benefits of the secosteroid D appear to have much to benefit from selling the populace massive amounts of D. People fail to realize that Big Pharma is not the only game in town. We also have the suppliment industry. I’m not against suppliments. I’m just against being a lab rat.

    Recently I started to take D3 at 10,000 per day or more based on current recommendations, then I found the Marshall Protocol and how they were actually curing people using pulsed low dose antibiotics, Benicar to activate the Vitamin D nuclear Receptors that are plugged up by D2 and L-Bacteria Biofilm defensive compounds. D3 then goes on to plug up the T cell receptors in ather parts of the immune system. Because of this well thought out information on presented by Amy Proal at I have suspended by vitamin D3 intake until I straighten all this out.

    I wrote the following short essay on the Dr. Mercola facebook site. I have to say that to date Dr. Mercola has not answered any of my Q’s or concerns.

    Okay, here is why, if you have an autoimmune disease, that you should avoid Steroidal D (D is not a Vitamin) otherwise known as D2 and D3. Pathogens produce binders that attach to VITAMIN D NUCLEAR RECEPTORS (VDR). D2 (25-D) does the same thing. Both of them block D3. This stops the D3 (1,25-D) from doing its job on the VDR. D3 now will seek other immune receptors like the T3 receptors and bind to them not allowing T3 to do its immune function. Taking massive amounts of D3 will only inhibit your ability to fight the pathogens and heal.

    Okay. So now, you are worried so you go to your doctor and test for D. He/she will probably do a D2 (25-D) test and tell you that it is low. They’ll tell you that nick is full of it and prescribe that you should increase your vitamin D intake!!! Just one minute, now. Before you leave the doctor’s office insist that you have them do a D3 (1,25-D) test. It will probably come back as off the charts high.

    Why is that, Nick? If you have an autoimmune disease, then the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down D3 (1,25-D), so that you don’t have too much D3, is suppressed. Also, the D3 has no VDR receptors to latch on to. D3 therefore goes on to block the rest of the immune system because D3 needs a home, too.

    In conclusion, taking massive amounts of D3 in this case could entirely possibly shut down your entire immune system!!

    Okay, then, so far so good, but what if you don’t have an autoimmune disease. How about this scenario, you take massive amount of D3 and you overwhelm the enzymes responsible for breaking down the excessive D3 in your system. The D3 will now have no choice, but to infect the rest of your immune system causing a self induced autoimmune disease response. If gone on unchecked, then the path is similarly bleak.

    Okay, so Nick, then why is it that when I started to take D, that I felt better? I’m glad that you asked that question my good person. D2 and the Pathogens block the VDR Receptors and the massive amounts of D3 that you are taking are blocking the rest of the immune system. This allows the pathogens to grow and colonize unchecked by the immune system. However, the immune system when working properly causes a die-off of the pathogens. When the pathogens die, they give off toxic substances that cause all kinds of symptoms from mild to chronic. If the immune system can no longer kill them, then your symptoms magically disappear.

    The kicker is that the pathogens continue on their merry way, year after year once the immune system is immobile. A portion of the pathogens do die just like everything else and this becomes a self sustaining toxic die-off. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is the result.

    Good Luck To All,
    Nick D.

  9. I learned this summer that Vitamin-D does not provide protection from initial sun overexposure. I exposed my back to the sun for about three hours early this summer and blistered and itched for days afterward. Initial sun exposure has to be brief. After a slight tan is achieved, all-day exposure does not cause a problem.

  10. I am 66 and found my D level was 11.0 a month a go. I’m taking 10k UI’s weekly and feel from what i’m reading that that is not enough. I am calling my doctor to ask for an increase. I have many symptoms. Thanka Betsy

  11. Are you saying there are problems with my post or just highlighting a specific benefit for vitamin D. Vitamin D is not a single compound I am confused as to how “its” various effects can be separated in any trials where it is given in one but not other forms…

  12. Get the facts from real researchers doing double-blind studies: go to PubMed and search “Vitamin D immune.” You’ll find that all legitimate studies suggest that if anything, when taken in prescribed amounts rather than as a megadose, Vitamin D helps ameliorate Crohn’s Disease, can protect children from developing asthma, etcetera, etcetera.

  13. Thanks, you can usually read what I think in my posts and tweets. I don’t tend to allow commenters to publicise spammy websites through this medium though, sorry.

  14. i’ve done some research and there is a lot of good info on this website about vitamin d and what it can do for you! i’m really interested in what you think since i live in az and am in the sun pretty much everyday all year long!

  15. I don’t think it’s just a feeling. I stopped working in cutoffs and shirtless (I’m a carpenter) in summer about 12 years ago. Two years ago, because of vitamin D research I was reading, I decided to obtain more sun exposure. What I noticed is that even if I got careless early in the season my legs and back did not become sore and itchy. Moreover, since I don’t wear a hat, my nose and ears get considerable exposure throughout summer. They don’t get as red and tender as they used to.

    I’m nearly 62 years old so I’ve many years of experience in the sun. I’ve had many bad sunburns that itched. That doesn’t happen any more. This is especially astonishing considering the fact that I’ve stopped using sunblock altogether.

  16. @David You think taking vitamin D has somehow made you immune to sunburn? Have you tested that…or is it just a general feeling, maybe you’ve not been getting as much sun exposure as before. It was certainly easy to avoid the sun this year in Europe because it seemed to be peeing down most of the time.

  17. I’ve been taking vitamin D-3 (Cholecalciferol) for several years now. Outside of having developed some immunity to sunburn, I’ve not noticed any effects one way or the other.

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