The Health Benefits of Vitamin D : Exclusive Article with Dr. J. E. Williams

Thursday Apr 7 | BY |
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wild mushrooms vitamin d
Light-exposed (wild) mushrooms can provide up to 100% of the recommended allowance of vitamin D.

Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM

Vitamin D Primer

During the early 1980s, I taught clinical nutrition at The University for Humanistic Studies in San Diego. I learned as much, probably more, than my students because we did a lot of informal clinical research on dietary nutrient levels. We found that vitamin D levels were low in all ages and both sexes, which lead me to predict a vitamin D deficiency epidemic. That’s old news now, and no one yet knows why levels are so low. However, research is advancing fast and we are learning a lot about vitamin D and why it’s essential for good health.

Vitamin D to Hormone D

Vitamin D is essential for life. It is the primary biological regulator of calcium metabolism and important for bone health. It also modulates neuromuscular function, reduces inflammation, enhances immunity, and influences the action of genes that regulate the proliferation of cancer cells.

However, Vitamin D is technically not a vitamin at all, defined as an essential dietary factor, but a prohormone, a group of fat-soluble secosteroids, produced from the interaction of sunlight in the skin. Unfortunately, and nobody yet knows exactly why, even those in warm sunny climates, like Hawaii, are not making enough vitamin D.

There are two major forms of the vitamin: D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), with vitamin D3 the more active of the two. A two-step process is required to activate vitamin D so the body can use it. First it is metabolized in the liver and then processed by the kidneys to produce more than 30 different active vitamin D3 metabolites.

Role in Bone Health

One of the most important roles of vitamin D is to maintain skeletal calcium balance by promoting calcium absorption in the intestines, promoting bone resorption by increasing osteoclasts, maintaining calcium and phosphate mineral levels for bone formation, and allowing proper functioning of parathyroid hormone to maintain serum calcium levels. Vitamin D deficiency causes osteopenia, precipitates and exacerbates osteoporosis, causes the painful bone disease osteomalacia, and increases muscle weakness, which worsens the risk of falls and fractures in all ages.

Immune Regulator

Vitamin D is an important immune system regulator. Vitamin D receptor ligands have been shown to increase the activity of natural killer cells and enhance the phagocytic activity of macrophages. Activated vitamin D hormone increases the production of cathelicidin, an antimicrobial peptide that is produced in macrophages triggered by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risks of deadly cancers, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Key to Gut Function

The vitamin D receptor plays a key role in how gut flora maintain the digestive system, Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York say this is a new understanding how good microbes in the human digestive tract keep bad bacteria in check. Without enough vitamin D3, there is more inflammation and less ability to fight infection. The vitamin D receptor is key to fighting off invading bacteria such as Salmonella by keeping inflammatory molecule NF-Kappa B from activating other inflammatory molecules. And the active form of vitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 has been shown to inhibit the development of autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease.

Getting Enough Vitamin D

Food sources include fatty fish eggs, red meat, and liver are rich in vitamin D. Light-exposed (wild) mushrooms can provide up to 100% of the recommended allowance of vitamin D.

The two forms of vitamin D used in dietary supplements are ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Ergocalciferol is sometimes considered a vegetarian source of vitamin D since it can be plant-derived. Supplemental Vitamin D3 comes mainly from processing lanoline extracted from sheep’s’ wool, but some is made in the laboratory from specially grown yeast. Vitamin D2, only a third as biologically active, comes from vegetable and yeast sources. However, there is good evidence that vitamin D3 increases serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D more efficiently than does vitamin D2. For strict vegans, wild mushrooms provide an easily absorbed highly bioavailable source.

From the naturopathic perspective, few individuals benefit from supplementation with vitamin D2 versus vitamin D3, the form of choice when supplementing with vitamin D. An important consideration in supplement choice is reliability of the manufacturer and quality control and assurance provided by the manufacturer. Vitamin D is often measured in International Units (IU) or micrograms. One microgram of cholecalciferol is equal to 40 IU of vitamin D.

To effectively raise you vitamin 25, Hydroxy Vitamin D3 levels you may need to take 2-4,000 IU daily with meals. Some people need much higher dosages. When using vitamin D2, you may need to use a higher dose than with vitamin D3. For those with health conditions associated with low vitamin D status who have very low blood levels of 25, Hydroxy Vitamin D3, intramuscular injections of 100 to 200,000 IU may be required.

Some Benefits of Vitamin D

  • Optimize calcium metabolism
  • Optimize phosphorus metabolism
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and stroke
  • Prevent muscle weakness
  • Prevent osteoporosis
  • Regulate insulin activity and blood sugar balance
  • Regulate immune system responses
  • Regulate muscle composition and muscle function
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Lower risk of excessive inflammation
  • Lower risk of some bacterial infections
  • Support cognitive function, especially in older persons
  • Support mood stability, especially in older persons
  • Help prevent chronic fatigue
  • Help prevent bladder, breast, colon, ovarian, prostate and rectal cancers

Checking Your Vitamin D Status

To know if you’re getting enough from the sun and your diet, and if your supplement is working, you need to measure your vitamin D3 level. A blood test for serum 25-hydroxy-vitamin D is the accepted standard. The desirable healthy blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D3 should be 39 to 70 ng/mL. For those with health conditions associated with low vitamin D, a serum level between 55 and 85 ng/mL may be required. Vitamin D intoxication may occur when 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels are greater than 150 ng/mL.

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Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. sharon says:

    The need for raising Vit D levels is touted all over the place. But now this comes out from Dr. McDougall saying this:

    Widespread recommendations for testing vitamin D levels using a standard that is too high to achieve is another example of disease mongering—where healthy people are turned into patients. The net effect is these newfound patients now spend more money on doctors’ visits, vitamin D tests, and supplements. My conclusion, based on the scientific research, is that normal should be considered 20 ng/mL or greater, a standard that most children and adults already meet.

    You can read his article here:

    …and he has a lot of references.
    So, what’s up with this?

  2. hyesun says:

    actually, adding to what sharon said above, i just listened to shane ellison (aka the people’s chemist) on the robert scott bell show, and he said that D3 supplements are toxic drugs, that humans are not supposed to eat lanolin from sheep wool. he said to either get vitamin d from the sun or from natural cod liver oil with no added vitamins. in this article he says pretty much what dr. mcdougal says. I’M SO CONFUSED!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Em says:

    I have been reading Dr. Mercola’s articles for many years and he completely agrees on all of the above information about vitamin D and that many people are deficient. I started taking vitamin D a few years ago with the intention of helping with mid-winter blues/depression. It helped immensely with that, and also seems to keep me from getting sick and getting colds when many others around me get colds all the time! Thank you for the article and for helping to get the information out there!!
    CHEERS 🙂

  4. sharon says:

    Kevin, I respect your opinions because you do so darn much research on an issue. So, I would appreciate your comments on why Dr McDougall is dismissing the Vit D issue.

    Along with Dr. Williams, I “listen” to Dr., Mercola, Dr. Furhman, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Ornish, Dr. Cousins, etc. Does Dr. McDougall have some agenda here that throws him in the opposite direction of the others? (can’t admit that his wife is not healthy with her Vit D level at 20? wants everyone to take his cruise to get their sun/vit D?) But then there are quite a few references that he lists backing up his opinion.

    Just hoping that you can shed some light on Dr. McDougall. (shall I throw him off my list of respected voices in the field of health?) Or why various Vit D studies differ and which studies we should believe. ????

    I am a part of the study and they too say there is a Vit D deficiency epidemic, so with my level at 39, I’m taking 4000 units of Vit D daily.

    Thanks so much for all you do.

  5. Terry says:

    I too would like clarification about these differing opinions. I have been taking around 3000 units a day with a level of 45 based on respected opinions about increasing my vit. D levels.

    Also do only wild mushrooms grown in the sun contain vitamin D? Mushrooms in the wild generally grow in shady, damp areas. Store bought mushrooms are advertising vit. D on their packaging – aren’t these normally grown in the dark?

    Thanks for any info clarifying these issues.

  6. I receive the Vitamin D newsletter. I did test my levels (25 hydroxy ohd) at one time through lab corp (self tested) and took 10,000 i.u’s for 6 months. That was before my current diet change and I didn’t notice anything. I was EXTREMELY low. I should retest one of these days since that’s something I can do. Life Extension makes a good D3 product.

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