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Dr. Cannell’s vitamin D regimen

Posted on: September 12, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


People often ask me what I personally do in terms of maintaining adequate vitamin D status. In short, my regimen is a combination of UV light exposure and oral supplementation, depending on the season of the year. Natural philosophy and modern practicality underlie the reasons for my personal regimen.

First, I strive to keep my 25(OH)D in the midpoint of the reference range at around 60 ng/ml. I know of no evidence that 80 ng/ml is better than 60 ng/ml. In fact, I know of no evidence that 60 ng/ml is better than 40 ng/ml. However, the occasional inaccuracies of blood testing, my innate conservative nature, and the simple common sense of being in the midpoint of the reference range are my rationales for maintaining my level around 60 ng/ml.

The second aspect of my personal regimen is that I am loath to avoid the sun. I believe, and numerous studies show, that sunlight does more for humans than simply raise their vitamin D levels. For example, bright light favorably affects mood and melatonin, while UV light increases endorphin production and triggers the body to produce numerous vitamin D-like compounds.

I seriously doubt science has exhausted this list of benefits. For that reason, in the warmer months, I try to get in a short sunbath once a week, being careful to cover my face and hands, and being careful never to burn. On the weeks I cannot sunbathe, I take 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D.

In the colder months, I usually simply take 5,000 IU/day, but I also try to get UV light on my skin by using the D Lite system (a sponsor of the Council) that I have on a wall in my office, or by going to a sun tanning parlor and using the older low-pressure sunbeds, at least once a month. My reasoning for occasionally using an artificial UV light source in the colder months is simple: nature designed the skin to meet UV light. Just like in the summer, I cover my face and hands, the areas where skin cancers are the most common, and I am very careful never to burn my skin. I take no vitamin D the week after I use a UV light source.

I think it is dangerous to completely avoid intense UV light and simply take vitamin D; which is a way of saying that vitamin D is the only good thing the sun does for you. In fact, a recent animal study confirmed that UV light, not vitamin D, worked the best in an animal model of multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, keep in mind that all the studies of latitude and UV intensity and most studies of 25(OH)D levels (most of which show the benefits of vitamin D) are mostly studies of UV light exposure.

Finally, I go to my dermatologist once every year for an examination of my skin. He is always amazed when I am happy if he finds a solar keratosis, or even a small non-melanoma skin cancer. I know that studies from the 1930s show those who have such skin lesions are less likely to develop internal cancers.

8 Responses to Dr. Cannell’s vitamin D regimen

  1. Brant Cebulla

    What is everybody’s regimen? Please share here.

    This summer I exposed my lower legs and upper body to sunlight about twice a week when doing yard work on the weekends. I am located here in San Luis Obispo, California, about 35* North. I also supplemented with 5000 IU for 5 days a week. My blood levels measured at 70 ng/ml and I am an 185 pound male.

  2. JBG

    Good info, bad timing. The sunbath-friendly season is rapidly coming to an end in much of the country. Maybe re-post this around next April?

  3. Margaret

    I take at least 5,000 iu’s of a certified brand of Vit D3 per day. If I feel like my immune system is compromised for any reason, I will increase it to 10,000 iu’s per day for a few days. I sometimes go up to 10,000 iu’s per day for a few weeks if I start to feel a cold coming on. I can arrest a cold from becoming more than a 1 or 2 day small “bother” throwing liberal amounts of Vit D3 on it — upwards of 30,000 iu’s per day for about 3-4 days. And, that cold is GONE after that. I used to get really bad sinusitus every fall season for weeks on end and then it would happen again. I’m happy to say that my protocols work wonders! No more fall-time sinus colds gone wild!

  4. theguru

    I spend most of my time in places where UVB from the sun is unavailable. Therefore I carefully use tanning beds with low-pressure lamps (and they are not “older”, like mentioned in the article) at least twice a week. It is important that the lamps emits reasonable amount of UVB. Unfortunately, the senseless European 0.3-rule does not cater for higher UVB-percentage (in relation to UVA) than maximum approx. 1.2%. For USA, a reasonable UVB-percentage is >5% (note that the figures are not directly comparable due to different division between UVA and UVB).
    This routine keeps my Vitamin D level in the 50-70 ng/ml range all year.
    I have been following this regime (more or less strongly) in more than 30 years by now and my soon 60-years old skin is deemed by cosmetologists as at least 20 years younger.
    Here are my recommendations of

  5. [email protected]

    I’ve often wondered if Muslim women who haven’t taken D-3 suppliments, might have a lower 25-OH D levels or a higher incidence of diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency. When I was stationed in Turkey, I noticed that many of the women had bowed legs (rickets?). You could tell when they walked, their knees lifted their dresses far lateral to their feet. Do you know Vitamin D studies on Muslim women?

  6. docfredkccn

    do muslim women sunbath, do they ever expose more than a forehead and their hand to sunlight?

  7. Brant Cebulla

    To my knowledge, the subject has been pretty well studied. A combination of keywords like “vitamin D,” “middle east,” “Muslim women” etc. on PubMed will lead you to a lot of research in that realm.

    A few I found on vitamin D status in women in the Middle East:

    “Vitamin D status in Jordan: dress style and gender discrepancies.”

    “Prevalence and predictors of vitamin D inadequacy amongst Lebanese osteoporotic women.”

    “Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among adult population of Isfahan City, Iran.”

  8. [email protected]

    The anecdotal evidence is becoming overwhelming. When is there going to be at least two gold-plated double-blind studies proving the importance of Vitamin D at 50 ng/ml?

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