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Why do we call vitamin D, vitamin D?

Posted on: February 13, 2013   by  Brant Cebulla


What is vitamin D? While the question would seem to call for a simple answer, the query hasn’t always prompted as straight forward a response as one might expect. Researchers often squabble over whether to classify vitamin D as a “vitamin,” a “hormone,” a “pro-hormone,” a “pre-hormone,” an essential “nutrient” and more. This might lead you to ask, then why do we call vitamin D, vitamin D?

The field of nutrition took off in the nineteenth century by German chemists. They believed that an adequate diet solely consisted of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and minerals; unaware of nutrients we now call vitamins.

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12 Responses to Why do we call vitamin D, vitamin D?

  1. [email protected]

    Brant when you said “They hear the word “vitamin,” and they assume that it must be something they need”, I think reactions can go either way. If I am trying to tell someone about Vitamin D, I usually see the “scepticism” on their face first at the mention of a vitamin and the next words out of my mouth better be “It’s not really a vitamin but a prohormone” then I have their attention and they start to listen
    As someone already pointed out, a while ago, we have been inundated with things that in the end did not “pan” out as first reported. Eggs, that were, extremely bad for our health, Vitamin E that was going to work “miracles” etc. So who is going to really listen about one more vitamin or supplement “miracle”. We are usually told that if we “eat right” that we do not even need to supplement!
    I agree with Rita that calling it a “Vitamin” is so wrong and very misleading! (Too bad that naming mistake was made all those years ago!) I think we are stuck with it though!
    I have been seeing Alternative Health Care Providers for many years because I could find no help in “general medicine”. It was that first doctor that did a Vitamin D test and I was at 11ng/ml. He gave me the prescription Vitamin D to take. I tried to research the subject but at the time there was no “Dr. Cannell” only the Mayo Clinic. Over the years the doctors kept increasing the amount I should take. I finally decided to try and research again. Low and behold I found the Vitamin D Council. (God bless Dr. Cannell!)
    So what got my attention on the website. Vitamin D is a prohormone (the alarm bell started to sound) and that you can go outside in the middle of summer and make “thousands and thousands of units” all on your own. More warning bells! (And I thought thyroid hormone was the “be all end all” of hormones.)
    Never once in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime has one doctor even mentioned Vitamin D and that it actually comes from the sun striking our skin. Just what do they teach doctors at school especially Endocrinologists! This is the biggest medical snafu in history!
    Most people rely on their doctor for this kind of information. So I think that is where the effort needs to be. And “NO” it should not be “piggybacked” on another supplement or fortified in food.
    So how do you tell someone that Vitamin D is not a vitamin, that no they cannot get enough from their diet, that no they cannot make any in the wintertime, that no the 1000 units mixed with their calcium is not enough, no when the doctor tells you that your “level” is fine it probably is not try 50ng/ml and above, that all that talk about too much being dangerous is a myth, that people in charge of federal guidelines, are withholding information so they can make money “down the road”? What a tangled web!

  2. mbuck

    In casual conversation, vitamin D can be mis-heard as B, so I always add, ‘vitamin D–the sunshine vitamin’. I always make this association with sunshine because it’s the most natural way we get it. Because our skin can make so much in so little time, it functions like leaves converting light, water and soil into more trees.

    What happens to a plant removed from sunshine? It fails to thrive and withers.

    Thus enters a plethora of ailments, compounded with each succeeding generation.

  3. Ian

    In NZ, because it is referred to as a hormone it is virtually banned.
    It is not a hormone, it is a nutrient, mostly endogenously synthesised but also found in foods. The fact the kidney converts 25(OH)D into calitriol does not make vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) a hormone.

  4. [email protected]

    To Ian
    Then what is “Pregnenolone” is that also a “nutrient” by your standards? If you say Vitamin D is a nutrient people then think if they “eat right” they will have “no problem”.
    To Mbuck
    I am 54 years old and never heard the term “sunshine vitamin”! I think the term probably stopped before my generation. I will ask my older sibblings if they remember the term.

  5. Ian

    Pregnenolone has hormonal activity in vivo. Cholecalciferol does not, as far as we know. Cholecalciferol is also found in some foods, albeit in low concentrations. Nutrient does not mean “found only in foods”.

    Calling vitamin D a hormone only adds to the fears and rationale for restricting it as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Bad policy in my mind. Especially as these countries have vitamin D related diseases at high rates. I suspect there also movements in the US to exercise such restrictions too, fortunately Americans can still choose. It would be fine if medical practitioners were well informed and practiced unbiased medicine. You would be hard pressed to get a doctor in NZ to prescribe vitamin D, they too are full of unsubstantiated fears. None of them consult the Vitamin D Council.

  6. [email protected]

    Ok Ian I see your point! Thanks so much for the insight. First I looked up “nutrients” figuring it would give me foods. It did but it also gave me “water”. Look closer and you find “oxygen” in the definition of “nutrient”. So knowing this I would get the vitamin companies to change the name to “Nutrient D”. Why? That alone might get people’s attention and spur more conversations and news coverage. I do not know if the FDA would approve of this or if they could even stop anyone from doing this. Anyway I think people could relate more in an explanation such as “Just like you need water, air, and food for vitamins and minerals you also need nutrient D. It separates it out from the “vitamins” and does not call it a “prehormone” to scare people and separates it from food because we all really know you can’t get enough that way. Of course education is paramount! When I say to people “it is NOT a vitamin” that gets their attention and then I try and explain. I think this will help me explain better or have an even bigger impact. Thanks! Thanks to Mbuck also I will watch out for the “mis-hearing” “D” as “B”!

  7. Ian

    Reinhold Vieth calls it a nutrient.

  8. aburfordmason

    The arguments about the naming of “vitamin D” have become completely irrational and an extreme waste of energy. To be absolutely correct vitamin D is not a vitamin since we can synthesize it ourselves, given the right conditions. The correct term therefore should be “conditionally essential nutrient”. What’s the condition? Lack of sunshine. If it is a hormone, then we should call the amino acid tyrosine a hormone, since it is the precursor for thyroxin, the thyroid hormone, and adrenaline and nor-adrenaline, the stress hormones. But no biochemist or physiologist would think of calling tyrosine a pre-hormone or a hormone. Its just plain silly.
    Incidentally, tyrosine is not an essential amino acid, since we can make it from phenylalanine, which is an essential amino acid. But under extreme stress the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine available from diet becomes rate limiting for the production of stress hormones. So tyrosine is another example of a conditionally essential nutrient: It becomes essential when we are subjected to a lot of stress.

  9. Dan

    How about a new monker? VT = Vital Nutrient. But all cells having Vitamin D receptors makes it more a…

  10. Ron Carmichael

    “Vitamin D is to your body’s immune system and anti-inflammation, as estrogen/testosterone(depending on gender of listener) is to your sex. It is THAT powerful”.

    I find that most people react properly to this analogy. I often also remark, “a 5,000iu capsule has about 125 micrograms, a microgram is 1 THOUSANDTH of a milligram!, of D in it – that is how powerful the chemical is, and why your body makes it in as little as just 15 minutes at high noon in the summer if you run nekkid through the woods.”

    A little humor kind of embeds the notion….but I do it with a deadpan expression, till their eyes react. Then I smile, and say “there is probably nothing I do as a pharmacist to promote health more than to help you get to a mother-nature blood level of vitamin D. Just don’t get arrested doing it…”

    That’s one approach that seems to work well…

  11. Ian

    You expended quite a bit if energy there on such an irrational waste of time. I agree with your analogies. To add another, tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin and melatonin, both hormones.

  12. Ron Carmichael

    Lately I have found that employing the term, “D is a GENE REGULATOR, controlling more than 1/8 of the entire human genome”, carries far more informational and persuasive weight with many of my patients in the pharmacy. “It controls genes to prevent cancer, deal with inflammation, it improves genes in your immune system, while also functioning as a hormone to improve your thyroid, bile, and insulin functions.” These seem to be more persuasive to those I counsel than to say “It is a vitamin you need to be healthy”. It is rare to have a patient I am reviewing the medications for (face to face), where I cannot state with conviction through the knowledge from studies that they would impact their disease state in a positive way, by using pharmacological dosages of cholecalciferol on a daily basis.

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