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D-frocking the myth that pills substitute for good health habits

“Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.” “The key to health is a balanced diet and lifestyle.”― Moses Maimonides


We love Vitamin D and are told that it’s crucial to our health.  So, we measure it prolifically, we take it in big doses, and when the numbers are high we feel good about ourselves.  The only real way to get D naturally is through the sun, since with adequate sun exposure our skin can create D and release it in the body.  But who wants all that sun?  It’s bad for us, or so we’re told by groups like the CDC, College of Dermatology, and most doctors.  It causes cancer and wrinkles; it needs to be avoided.


Well, like with so many medical myths, this one has led to tremendous harm, deceptive thinking, and unnecessary testing and drugging.  The reason is that Vitamin D measurements mean almost nothing other than telling us if we get enough sun.  The sun is important, Vitamin D is not.


We like measuring things and then fixing them.  Somehow that makes us feel healthier.  Our doctors are obsessed with testing us and repairing the abnormalities.  High cholesterol?  Better take statins.  You’re prediabetic?  We have a pill for that and we’ll drop your sugar really low.  Obese?  Good new, lots of pills are around to help you!  You have a blockage in your heart blood vessel?  Let’s put in a stent and fix it.  High PSA with prostate cancer?  We have drugs that can lower that number to zero!  This is what health care has become.  We measure and fix things and then tell you you’re ok.  That’s what we’ve been doing with Vitamin D.  Why expose yourself to the dangers of sunshine when a pill can take care of it?  There’s always a way to improve our numbers and make us feel good.


But none of that makes us healthier.  High sugars are not dangerous most of the time, it’s what causes the high sugar that’s dangerous.  When our bodies are inflamed, our insulin doesn’t work, we make more insulin, which leads to more inflammation, and then our sugar starts to increase.  If we “fix” the sugar without improving the underlying inflammation, we’ve done nothing.  In fact, many diabetic medicines lower sugars without lowering inflammation and result in more heart attacks and strokes; hardly a recipe for good health.  Fix the number and get sicker.  That’s because the number is not the problem, and it’s far more difficult to address the problem than fix the number. Similarly, we know that high cholesterol is not dangerous.  Only when cholesterol sticks to our blood vessels does it pose a problem, and that too occurs in the setting of inflammation.  Fix the cholesterol without improving inflammation and the cholesterol will still stick, even if we and our doctor are pleased that we pushed our LDL so low.  Just as many people get heart attacks with low and high cholesterol, and these number-fixing pills don’t change that equation.  Also, when we put a stent into a tiny heart blockage, we’ve again fixed a number (the blockage) without addressing the underlying problem (plaque in our entire blood system due to inflammation).  Fixing a quarter inch of a plaque-filled artery predictably doesn’t reduce heart attacks or death, but it does increase bleeding and strokes.  Again, hardly a good trade off.


Vitamin D is another of those deceptive numbers that we have been led to believe is prognostic for illness.  Fix the number, you lower your chance of getting sick.  But it’s not that simple, and as we have seen through much recent research, Vitamin D does not help us at all.  Yes, low levels of D can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infections, and even dementia.  But raising the levels with pills doesn’t help alleviate any of those conditions.  The reason is that D is merely a surrogate marker for adequate sun exposure.  We need the sun for so many crucial body processes, the production of Vitamin D being only one of them.  When we deprive ourselves of sun by smearing ourselves with sunscreen and covering our bodies, none of the crucial processes of the sun on the skin can occur.  Most of these processes have nothing to do with Vitamin D, so merely taking D pills without sunshine is hardly a substitute for the value of sun.  We fix a number, but we don’t get any benefit.


There really is no reason to measure or treat vitamin D.  Low levels only tell us one thing: we’re not getting enough sun.  Fixing those levels by taking pills does not change the basic reality of sun deficiency.  In fact, when we avoid the sun, we turn off our skin’s crucial contribution to our immune system, which increases our chance of getting infections and cancer, as well as increasing our body’s inflammation.  It doesn’t matter how high our D is.  It matters how much sun we get.


What about skin cancer?  Turns out not a single study has shown that sunscreen reduces skin cancer deaths.  All that sunscreen accomplishes when used excessively is to lower our body’s ability to fight cancer, and thus paradoxically it can increase cancer death.  Yes, sunscreen increases cancer, not the other way around.  Sure, using it to avoid burns can help with some cancers like Melanoma, but its use hasn’t reduced Melanoma deaths, so one has to wonder just how effective it is.


Whenever we in the medical profession tell you that a measured number is something that predicts your health, and that “fixing” that number will make you healthier, we’re only deceiving you into doing the wrong thing.  Numbers have some value, but rarely tell us much about underlying processes that are the true determinant of health.  Fixing a number is like putting a band-aide on a festering wound and declaring the wound to be cured. 


Get sun, exercise, eat well, and stay away from all those medicines that fix numbers. In the end, most of them not only are more harmful than helpful, but they also trick us into thinking we can improve our health by improving numbers.  It’s not that simple, even if drug companies and doctors want you to believe otherwise.



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