August 5, 2010 posted by

The Curious Case Of Vitamin D & Why To Take Supplements

I got a lot of comments other day making me realize that I should blog more on supplements. I also need to do a better job explaining how they work. Using examples is often the easiest way explain things so today we’ll showcase the rising popularity of vitamin D as an example of why to take supplements.

The curious case of vitamin D is very simple. To live healthily our bodies require a certain amount of a bunch of nutrients. It’s pretty resilient, and can make do without things for a surprisingly long time but, at some point health begins to diminish without your vitals. Enter vitamin D, a “fat soluble” (meaning we can store it in our fat tissue) vitamin that’s essential for life and once was pretty much impossible to be deficient in since we get it from sunlight. All we have to do is spend a little time outdoors, soak up a few rays, and we’re golden.

There haven’t been many vitamin D famines in history. Historically you didn’t need to worry about it unless you were in a medieval prison, in which case you probably had more pressing matters. Even in cultures where the sun is gone for much of the year we were fine because we can store vitamin D in our fat cells. Nowadays, however, many people rarely see the light of day. Hmm, perhaps this explains the recent popularity of vampires in pop culture, but I digress. Even when we do venture into the elements we’ve often slathered on so much zinc oxide the sun hasn’t a chance to do its magic.

When you lack a vital nutrient, and then get it, the effects can seem wondrous. And this is why vitamin D is currently being coined a “miracle supplement.” The main reason for taking supplements is to replace nutrients that, for some reason, you are lacking. Given the bang-up job Big Food has done with destroying edible products and then serving us boxes of sugar “fortified with [random] essential vitamins” you can see their niche right away. But you should also be able to see that the better you eat the less need you have for supplementing your diet. Taking vitamin D is great if you need vitamin D. If you don’t you are wasting your money.

The biggest problem we have is deciding which supplements we need. Even if it were reasonable to have your doctor test for everything they could think there’s almost no way to find a deficiency without an acute symptom for them to target. This is why a multi-vitamin is highly suggested for most people and, especially those who are limiting their caloric intake. Taking a good multi-vitamin will ensure that you aren’t, at least, grossly deficient in most major nutrients.

Targeted supplements are harder to figure out. You need to analyze your lifestyle and try and guess what you need. If you’re on a training program it’s easier because everybody runs a similar template when exercising. You can anticipate nutrient losses due to exercise and plan for this, which is why sports supplements are popular. Once that’s done then you can then look for lapses in performance that will give clues to a deficiency, which you can then supplement for. Exercise is the great equalizer. Not only does it improve your health but it amplifies your health problems and makes it easier to figure out what is wrong, at which point you can fix it.

Supplement “results” are misleading. Marketers have spun them out of control with ridiculous advertising schemes, most of which are out right lies. Supplements only provide miracle results when you find something that your body is starving for a feed it that nutrient. They can help you perform better at functions you do, like exercise, which can improve your quality of life. This symbiotic relationship between exercise, your diet, and supplements is the most efficient way to get your body into peak condition. No supplement can do that on its own.

Someone thought Tony Horton was bashing creatine when he posted an article showing a 4% improvement, but 4% is massive. Most banned performance enhancing drugs don’t do much better than that. If you need to improve more than this then you need to exercise and eat better. But 4% at the top of your game is the difference between an Olympic champion and not making your Olympic team. The key is getting to the top of your game first, which takes hard work. No supplement will yield results unless you are willing to work for them. They are, as their name suggests, simply a supplemental part of your overall plan.


  • You have a good multivitamin to recommend? Also when is the best time of day to take one?

  • thank you for the witty,abstract thinking process. i also appreciate the "if you don't try, nothing will happen"truth to health, diet and exercise.

  • Thanks much, Steve! I discovered my vitamin d deficiency (caused by my pretty extreme sun protective measures and dairy allergy) when a doc finally thought to test me for it in a quest to determine the cause of my bone/joint pain. Test results showed my level at EIGHT; in fact, my doc said she'd never seend a level that low in all her years of practice. I now supplement according to doc's orders — nothing more, nothing less. I get my levels checked every 3 months and that determines the amount of supplementation I need. I call it my miracle cure because the pain is finally GONE. Oh happy day. :)/michmP.S. If you ever need resources for UPF/SPF rated jerseys and tights, let me know; I'm a wealth of info on that subject! 🙂

  • Nice article, but I thought you were going to talk a bit more about vitamin D.Vitamin D seems to be taken for granted a lot as people say they get it from the sun, the problem is we don't really spend that much time in the sun.Vitamin D is vital because it's the vitamin that helps the body not only with the immune system and in conjunction with calcium to help with our bones, but it also helps the body process other vitamin & nutrients, so basically, without vitamin D there would be lots of vitamins that you could be taking for nothing, because if your deficient in vitamin D they will not be processed and you can intake all the calcium you want to help the bones and it wont happen and you can take all the vitamin C you want when your sick and it wont help your immune system, or other vitamins that D help process and well they wont be processed, they will be discarded or stored as fat, and when I mean discarded they will end up in your toilet.One way to know if you suffer from vitamin D deficiency is if you get tired quickly, if you sit and quickly fall asleep, if your driving and can't drive long because your eyes are closing down, and you sleep well to top it off, that is one side effect of being deficient in Vitamin D and you should consult a doctor if this happens to you; Now why do you get tired? Because all the vitamins and nutrients that are suppose to provide you with energy are not being processed, I know because I had the issue once.When should you supplement for it? Well I take Vitamin D if I will not be out in the sun for 30min or more, if it is raining all day and if you live somewhere cold in the winter and you can't go out much you should supplement for it during winter time. Especially if you exercise, because you are using up all your vitamins and nutrients and using the fat that is being stored in your body, there for your really not storing the vitamins for long periods either, I mean that is my take on that. However, Vitamin D is one vitamin you do not want to over dose on, you should consult your doctor and have them check your levels for it and see if taking Vitamin D on rainy days or days your not going to be outside is a good idea.Vitaminosis is something you guys should look up, it's the effect of overdosing certain vitamins like D or A and it's not a good thing. It's also why I spend some time telling people who take to much supplements to slow down, some people eat well and take the P90X Recovery Drink which already contains a bit of multivitamins, and then take multivitamin pills and now to top it off with Shakology which again contains some more vitamins, and to me that is a little to much and people should watch out for that. I think there should be an article on how to combine these supplements or why not combine them, to make sure people are not just going crazy and overdose on them, besides the ones that don't seem to cause issues, will be disposed of thanks to the liver, but than again, do you really want to over work your liver which could lead to liver issues down the road and waist money at the same time, when your just intaking it and then just sending it down the toilet?, Because our bodies only take what they need, store the ones that can be stored and dispose of the rest.I am not a doctor, so if I am wrong, than someone please correct me. If not how else are we going to learn :o)

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  • You are all right! The truth of matter is, you really do need a great multi-vitamin that your body can absorb. That's where all natural patented nanotechnology comes into play. Take a look at my vitamins and don't forget your vitamin D booster pack.

  • Do you know anything about Nano-Drol/ pro-hormones?! Any info will help! Good or bad. Thanks!

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  • Sorry for the duplicate post, had issues posting it because it was large LOL I deleted the extra one :o)

  • Excellent info. I have noticed a lot of local Dr's recommending 10min of outdoor activity without sunscreen.

  • I could recommend our vitamins. We offer a few options that I know are high quality. We are not the only company that sells high quality vitamins though. I'd say to be wary of cheap grocery brands. Standards are beginning to improve in the supplement world but it's always been a bit of a you get what you pay for market because there have been no standards in manufacturing. We spend thousands of dollars (20,000 per year for Shakeology alone) on audit services to ensure purity of raw materials and that the supplement themselves are not tainted by outside ingrendients and have the potency that is listed on the label. I am not sure what other companies do this but if you dig into their web sites it's generally stated if they do.

  • One supplement I've never used is vitamin D, but I'm outside A LOT!

  • I looked at the X multivitamin and the Mark Sisson Master formula. Sisson's product is heavily overpriced ($120). What multi vitamin do you recommend for me? Currently I just take Mega Teen from GNC.

  • When I was looking into vitamin suppliments, I found that someone had already been looking into it for many years, and so I tried a multi made from pro caps labs ( They make many product, but like the article explains, you have to evaluate what your own personal needs are. I am taking the mens multi and some omega3/omega6 and it has been working out real well, also, recently started taking the Shakeology and after only 1 month I am seeing some considreable results. Hope this helps~

  • Any suggestions on places that recommend which supplement will help with particular symptoms? Having severe leg cramps and muscle soreness after 150 days of p90x

  • Sisson's vits are 120 bucks, huh? Money would be better spent on Shakeology methinks. In my mind there is too much stuff in those. I don't even like to take our Peak Health formula, though it's good (and was designed by Sisson, btw). But I take a lot of other supps so my multi-vit does not need to be as potent. Using something like Activit, which you can take low or high dosages fits better in my program. Hassan, not sure about the teen formula but you are a lot more active than most teens (or people for that matter) so it would be a baseline for you. Probably pretty decent though.The cramp person, sounds like it's dietary. My guess is you have an electrolyet imbalance in your daily diet (too little salt or potassium, calcium, or magnesium). Ensuring you're good on these nutrients, and hydrated with plenty of water would be my first fix. A post workout recovery formulation would be next. This will help with soreness more than anything you can do because if you are glycoten depleted post workout the longer it takes you to tap your gycogen stores up again the more damage is done.

  • If you live in the northern hemisphere there are even greater health concerns if you do not take a Vitamin D supplement. If you live in Canada (like I do) or Scandinavian countries (Russia, Finland, etc.) you are at a much greater risk of Multiple Sclerosis (MS, I hope I spelled that correctly!) if you do not have Vitamin D. Steve Edwards talked about going into the sun to get our daily Vitamin D from our skin interaction with UV-B light, but in these northern countries the amount of this UV-B light is greatly reduced, even more so in the winter. It's also why some people 'feel' more depressed in the winter: lack of Vitamin D. This information is coming from Pharmaceutical journals and is passed down from my mother (the pharmacist) to me. Not only do I take a multi-vitamin with 400IU's of D3 in it, but I also take another 1000IU tablet as well. Anything over 2000IU's your body will just flush out of your system anyways, so if you are buying into the 2500IU or 4000IU tablets, it's a waste of money. Don't take my word for it, research it yourself =)

  • Keep in mind that vit D is stored in your fat tissue and not so easily flushed as water soluble vitamins. It is possible to overdose on (though this would take some work). Historically some cultures that go months without a lot of sun, like the Inuit, have been able to store enough in their bodies to last through lean periods. Good info though. Vit D supplementation is important for some people.

  • Just to throw another log onto the Vitamin D fire, if you have hypothyroid, it can interfere with vitamin absorption. My doctor has me on 4000 IU of Vitamin D a day. He's been doing blood work every other month, and this appears to be the minimum I can take and still have my body absorb at even the lowest acceptable range.

  • Neat to hear that bit about 4% improvement due to Creatine. I've been pondering a venture into that supp, through my P90X adventure. May jump on that for round 2. One supplement we can't measure though is true effort? How much of a percentage increase do we see from that!Great blog Steve, thanks for the tips and commentary!

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