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Vitamin D Dramatically Increases Athletic Performance

The active form of vitamin D is a steroid and a hormone in the same manner as another steroid hormone, testosterone, which circulates in the body and is a catalyst for genetic protein transcription. Researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina point out that that adequate vitamin D levels increase the body’s production of calcitriol, a secosteroid hormone that affects over 2,000 different genes, about 10% of the human genome. Though steroids are known to boost athletic performance, they are bad for our health, as opposed to the health-enhancing Vitamin D. Vitamin D also increases the size and number of fast twitch muscle fibers which could make an athlete more powerful.

Though medical studies indicate that the right amount of vitamin D will make you faster, stronger, improve your balance, timing, etc., Cannell wants to make it clear that improvement also is dependent upon an individual’s natural athletic ability, training, dedication and how deficient in Vitamin D the athlete was in the first place. If the athlete is suffering a deficiency, there may not be much or any improvement. However, it is generally thought that most people do not maintain optimal levels of vitamin D. It has been noted that athletic performance tends to peak in midsummer, when exposure to direct sunlight and vitamin D levels in the body are greatest.

In the 1960s and 1970s the German and Russian Olympic teams won a large number of medals, and they were convinced that it was the Vitamin D that helped give them an edge. A 1938 study showed that by using vitamin D-producing ultraviolet lamps, 100-meter dash times were improved from 13.63 to 12.62 seconds. Another study in 1945 found that UV radiation for up to 2 minutes, three times a week, improved cardiovascular fitness scores by 19% compared to 2% of students who did nothing.

Dr. Cannell’s research began when several patients asked him why they felt better, faster and stronger after receiving correct amounts of vitamin D. In looking onto the reasons for this, he located five independent bodies of research, mainly in German and Russian medical texts, before coming to the conclusion that maintaining the right amount of vitamin D does indeed improve athletic performance.

Dr. Cannell’s paper reports, “Few athletes live and train in a sun-rich environment, thus few have ''natural'' 25(OH)D levels, with the exception of equatorial athletes, such as the runners of Kenya. Another possible exception was the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where athletes had to arrive early to acclimatize to the 7400-ft altitude. Because UVB penetration of the atmosphere is higher at high altitudes, because Mexico City is relatively close to the equator, and because of the summer season, ambient UVB irradiation from sunlight would have been intense during the 1968 summer games and should have rapidly increased the 25(OH)D levels of any athlete acclimatizing outdoors. Many new world records were set that summer.”

While some may see this as the equivalent of “doping,” it is really just returning to the athlete their natural level of ability, as most people are actually Vitamin D deficient. It could be considered the same as the effect sleep deprivation has on both mental and physical performance. Nobody would think to criticise an athlete for getting the optimal amount of sleep.

Vitamin D deficiency may be a quite common problem in athletes, causing stress fractures, chronic musculoskeletal pain, viral respiratory tract infections, and several chronic diseases that are associated with vitamin D deficiency. Doctors have a responsibility to promptly diagnose and adequately treat this deficiency when they find it.

The current U.S. government recommendation for 20-year-olds of 200 IU per day is just enough to prevent bone disease, not enough to treat low levels of Vitamin D. However, Dr. Cannell warns, “Studies suggest that taking too much vitamin D (more than 5,000 IU/day) may actually worsen athletic performance.” Vitamin D deficiency can cause a host of problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, birth defects and even periodontal disease. Nevertheless, having too much Vitamin D can also cause problems, including cardiovascular disease, so it’s necessary to find a good balance.

A good strategy, according to the Vitamin D Council, is to take 2000 IUs of vitamin D3 in supplement form for four months then get your Vitamin D levels tested, making sure that you are given the “25 (OH) D” test. Your vitamin D levels should be above 50 ng/ml (125 nmol/L). If they are not, they recommend increasing your dosage of vitamin D and then taking the test again a few months later.

Vitamin D is made available to us mainly through natural sunlight, so you can augment your levels of Vitamin D by getting regular exposure to the sun in the summer, or by using artificial UVB sunlamps about once a week in the winter. Another healthy source of Vitamin D in the winter, or if you happen to live in an area that doesn’t get much sun, is Cod Liver Oil. In addition, by eating oily fish, dairy products and certain fortified foods, and by taking vitamin D3 supplements, you can maintain an adequate amount of Vitamin D to keep you at your peak performance.

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