Vitamin D

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Ever since doing Snake Oil visualization, I’ve become a little obsessed with optimising my diet. Hey – what else is there to do on a winter evening? Strange thing. Vitamin D keeps popping up in all kinds of research. Evidence seems to be growing for its extensive potential role in health, cancer prevention and even mental health and mood.

Deficiency may even be a contributing factor for the greater prevalence of heart disease and diabetes among African-Americans (dark-skinned peoples have much more difficulty synthesising vitamin D from sunlight). Nearly 100% African Americans could have insufficient Vitamin D, according to some studies. Nearly 1 in 3 could be severely deficient.

I got curious. And inevitably that curiosity spawned a yomming great infographic.

See the image on its own

UPDATED! Data and research:

Vitamin D

UPDATE: 1st Dec. The US Institute of Medicine have released an equally yomming report on Vitamin D. (Story in NY Times | Original PDF report) It does a lot of cross- and meta-analysis on the various studies out there. Some findings contradict what I’ve visualized here. So I’ve folded in the new info and adapted the visuals. You can see a detailed summary in the Change Log. The headlines are: 

  • Evidence for health benefits beyond bone health are “inconsistent & conflicting” – I’ve changed wording
  • Blood levels that count as ‘insufficient’ vitamin D are disputed and unstandardized – I’ve added a note
  • The Recommended Daily Allowance has been boosted to 600 IU, from 200 IUs – I’ve added this

Everything else seems to stand up! I’ve updated the data spreadsheet too.

(The report doesn’t mention latitudes or UVB exposure. So I’m sticking to my 2000IUs vegicaps a day during the winter)

If you find any other research, please send it over or post below.

Spanish translation – thanks to Alex


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Show Comments ( )

  • April Sun

    Depending on the time of the day, time of the year and the angle of the sun to the Earth’s surface then the UVB component in natural sunlight goes up to around 5% of total UV radiation. The UVB component contained in tanning lamps can vary between 1-3% unless you are using collagen lamps, which only emit narrowband UVB.

    Tanning beds do help in the production of vitamin D in the exact same way that natural sunlight does. There have been numerous studies conducted that have shown people who use tanning beds have robust, healthy of vitamin D and higher bone mineral density than their control group counterparts.

    If you are going to use a tanning bed though just make sure you follow a few simple rules:
    - Start out on the smallest time possible, even if it is only 3 minutes.
    - Build up your time slowly and increase your tanning time in 1 minute increments.
    - Do not go more often than once every two days.
    - If you are still red more than 24 hours later then you were in for too long and you need to reduce your time.

  • theo hill

    i love this website i think all this info is beatiful

  • David R. (Canada)

    Vitamin D3 in margarine? I don’t think so.
    Butter has small amounts of Vit.D3.

  • Jack

    Dr. Joseph Mercola advises: in the winter months, if not getting sufficient daily exposure to strong light, go to a doctor and ask for a 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, blood test. When you get the results, don’t follow the typical “normal” reference range, as these are too low. The OPTIMAL value that you’re looking for is 45-52 ng/ml (115-128 nmol/l)”. The company which tests your levels has to be one of those using the correct form of test. 59% of Americans are deficient in the extremely important vitamin D3, with their lowest levels occurring in late winter, and early spring.

    Dr. John Cannell advises that the co-factors most often deficient in the American diet, and necessary to optimise its absorption, and utilisation are magnesium, zinc, boron, and vitamin K2 . Otherwise, I recommend using either health food/vitamin stores, or Googling: ” … ; supplies” rather than risking any old, or substandard products at supermarkets, or even on pharmacy shelves.

  • Mariel

    Jack, you are right, co-factors are very important. Everyone should check out the Vitamin D Institute [ Dr.Cannell ], and D information on Dr. Mercola’s site. He also sells safe tanning beds. In the mid-latitudes UVB is absorbed by the atmosphere so that the time from 10 am to 2 pm is your best time to receive enough UVB.
    The quality of fats and oils you eat can determine how much sunlight inflames your skin. Don’t wash off your natural oils after sunning. Give time for the skin to absorb what will make the D in your body. D increases your need for magnesium, and oral supplements can be poorly assimilated. Transdermal Mg is effective. Read about it at Ancient Minerals.

  • Helen Wenley

    There is continual evidence coming from current research about the importance of Vitamin D. Get your blood levels checked. I am intrigued by the map displayed – why show only 42 degrees in the northern hemisphere and not the southern hemisphere? Vit D deficiency applies to Australia and New Zealand too. Read up-to-date info here

    • Rita

      Checked the website you suggested…incredible! A lot of good information
      Thank you

  • James Charles

    More current informaiton can be found at:

    I keep my blood levels in the mid 70s (ng/ml) and it takes 13,000 IU/day to keep it there. [lab reference range is 32-100 ng/ml based on lab work on Americans who are already deficient] When I do get sick, my blood D levels will drop to 30 ng/ml. The optimum range keeps getting raised; currently it is running 50-80 ng/ml. I’m considering adjusting mine to 100 ng/ml since blood ranges for those living in the tropics can easily go to 150 ng/ml.

  • rachael g

    Um, I mostly agree with this except one thing… Margarine is not actually food! it’s a bunch of intersified or hydrogenated vegetable oils that are full of free radicals and far from being good for you is actually very bad for you. I take cod liver oil every day.

  • DP

    Unfortunately cod liver oil, tends to store all the accumulated heavy metals that have been dumped in the oceans. You are far better off with a cold water fish derived EPA/DHA supplement, although I couldn’t comment on the Vit D levels of such a product,.

  • Kris

    Really cool infograph, this should really be put up as a poster in public schools. Certainly much more important than the worthless food pyramid crap that they put up there.

    I wouldn’t be recommending margarine as a food source of Vitamin D though, the amount is small and the trans fats in it are extremely harmful.

  • Tom Jones

    What about Vit D levels in communities where clothing is worn covers most of the skin?

  • michael

    I can’t belive that anyone would suggest eating margarine for viatimin D
    Margarine decreases immune response-Truth!
    We found several references to this including an article by nutritionist Dr. Mary Enig that said that consuming trans fatty acids “Affects immune response by lowering effeciency of B cell response and increasing proliferation of T cells.”

  • Greg

    Vitamin D3 has literally changed my life. I’m a pale skinned 52 yr old male and live in the UK. Plus, I’ve never liked being in the sun (which is funny because I’m about to move to a tropical country, but I digress).
    About 5 yrs ago I started to get a lot of joint pain. I put this down to many years of weight-lifting and running on pavements, and I just put up with it.
    However, just last summer the pains in my fingers got so bad that I was having to plunge my hands into scalding water every morning, just to get them moving. I was about to give up fighting it and go to the doctor for medication.
    Then I heard a piece on the radio; an interview with a very eminent doctor, talking about Vit D3 and its (very) possible role in multiple sclerosis. He urged everyone in our latitude to take 2,000 IU per day. He took the same dose himself. The programme then interviewed another doctor, this time talking about joint pain and osteoporosis and I thought hmm…

    Another health issue that started really plaguing me around the same age (late 40s) was depression. I’d been on various “happy pills” for five years.

    Well, I started taking D3, 2,400 IU and within a month ALL my musco-skeletal pain had disappeared. And, believe it or not, I weaned myself off the antidepressants, too.
    Of course there will be those of you who say this is a placebo. Fine, you’re welcome to your opinion.
    However, I urge the rest of you to at least give it a try. 2,400 IU is VERY unlikely to cause overdose (do the research and you’ll see that a lot of physicians are choosing this dose).
    Interestingly, a group of doctors here in the UK has been urging our government to supplement our milk and I read just last week that this is now under active consideration. The Scandinavians have been supplementing for years and (again, check for yourselves) their rate of MS is tiny in comparison with Scotland’s (which does not supplement and has the highest MS rate in Europe, if not the world).
    D3 is, as far as I’m concerned, a miracle substance, and I think it’s scandalous that our Health Authorities aren’t doing more about it.
    I’m no conspiracy nut but sometimes you can’t help but wonder what the whole story is, here. Why on EARTH isn’t the medical profession (especially in the US) flagging this up? Surely it could have nothing to do with the obscene profits made from drugs to treat osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and many, many others that seem so closely linked to D3 deficiency?
    Please, give it a go. And if you’re of African descent you simply must.
    PS: This is a little more trivial but my skin and hair have also undergone a transformation. Just this week I’ve had two people ask if I’ve had some sort of “work” and another ask if I’ve had a hair transplant! Hilarious.

  • Synephrine

    I live in Scotland, whats the sun? :-)

  • Jordi Comas

    some of these graphic is not true, do you have more reliable source?