Anytime I try to answer a question about health, I always look back towards what we are designed for. Our bodies are designed with a brilliance that surpasses our current knowledge.
My rationalization is that, if we can figure out what we were designed for, then living by those parameters is much more likely to produce health than disease. We all need to face that we still have hunter-gatherer genetics. We have spent to bulk of our existence in this model and our genetics will not catch up to today’s digital age for hundreds of thousands of years. Heck–we still haven’t really adapted to an agricultural lifestyle very well.
The problem is that there are not many true hunter-gatherer populations left on the plan to study to help answer the pressing questions about our health. Luckily, though, there are still some hunter-gatherer tribes left in Africa that we can study.
There has been much debate over what the “optimal” levels of vitamin D are. The labs put deficiency as below 20 ng/ml and most doctors are happy if their patients are above that point. But there is much debate from some very smart people that suggest that we need to have higher levels on the range of 50-100 ng/ml for disease prevention.
Personally, I think we were designed for heavy sunlight exposure at the latitude that our ancestors lived at (in other words, my Irish ancestors were not hanging out at the equator). There was no sunscreen and no staying indoors all day long. And the darkening of the skin (either through a tan or freckles) is a natural protectant against vitamin D toxicity.
With this rationale, it would be reasonable to estimate that the vitamin D levels in the bloodstream of hunter-gatherer societies would be closer to what we were designed for. Which is exactly what researchers did in this particular study. The evaulated the vitamin D levels of 35 pastoral Maasai and 25 Hadzabe hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania. These tribes have skin type VI (deeply pigmented dark brown to black — never burns, tans very easily), have a moderate degree of clothing, spend the major part of the day outdoors, but avoid direct exposure to sunlight when possible.
Here’s what the vitamins D levels were:
- The Maasai tribe members had a average vitamin D level of 47.6 ng/ml (119 nmold/l).
- The Hadzabe had a average of 43.6 ng/ml (109 nmol/l).
- Considering both tribes together, the average vitamin D levels were 46 ng/ml (115 nmol/l)
- Vitamin D levels were not related to age, sex or BMI.
These numbers are a far cry from what the labs and most doctors view as “normal.” Personally, I’d go with the higher numbers.
So quick tips to remember:
- The prescription forms of vitamin D in the 25,000 and 50,000 doses just don’t seem to raise blood levels to where they should be. For this reason I steer patients away from these forms.
- If you’ve had your gallbladder taken out, you NEED an emulsified form. Period.
- In order to get your values up to the values seen in these hunter-gatherer populations, you’re most likley going to have to START at 6,000 IU / day. This number will vary based on your skin type, BMI and how much sunlight exposure you get.
Based on this, are you taking the RIGHT amount and the RIGHT type of vitamin D for you?