Attending a lecture on the health benefits of vitamin D does not sound like an ideal way to spend your Wednesday night. You probably saw the promotional poster outside of Warren walking to class and didn’t give it a second thought. You wrote it off as something that you are not interested in.
This year’s 2013 University Lecture sponsored by the School of Medicine featured the work of Dr. Michael Holick, PhD, MD, at the University of Wisconsin (aka Fox News’ 2013 Sexiest College in America). With more than 40 years of experience in the field of vitamin D research, Dr. Holick came to speak about his studies and the effects that vitamin D has on our daily lives.
So why vitamin D in particular? After earning a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Seton Hall University, Holick became interested in biochemistry and microbiology and applied to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in the hope of being accepted in the microbiology program. “Actually, vitamin D chose me,” Holick joked, adding that the only opening in the program was working with a young biochemist studying vitamin D.
Holick then began his research and quickly found himself thrown full force into the field conducting experiments and cataloging results with a newfound vigor and interest in the topic. Over the course of the lecture he described his struggles with experimentation, a thrilling race to publish his findings before a lab in Cambridge, and the all-to-real effects of vitamin D deficiency on humans and animals.
Filled with humorous, if a little nerdy, clip art and animations, the presentation was engaging and funny and still managed to communicate the science behind the vitamin. Holick himself was eccentric and inspiring as he broadcasted his failures with pride (nearly every experiment was followed with a powerpoint slide exclaiming “FAILED” in bold letters) and used his shortcomings to promote innovative thought and critical thinking skills.
When the time had come for him to decide whether or not to pursue his master’s degree, Holick responded with “Why not?” which seemed to be more of a lifestyle than a simple question. In approaching his life with a “why not” attitude, he found himself butchering pigs, healing chimpanzees, studying African tribes, wading through thousands of chicken intestines, and standing shirtless on a roof in the middle of winter all in the pursuit of vitamin D.
So great, a whimsically intelligent man gave a rousing lecture on Wednesday. Why should you care? Well, entertainment factor aside, the information contained in the lecture may just save your life. We all know that vitamin D comes primarily from the sun and, if you spend your days living below Atlanta, Georgia, you are probably not concerned with vitamin D deficiency. For the rest of us up here in New England however, this is a real issue. As Holick put it, “vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is the most common medical condition worldwide.”
Due to the angle of the sun in the winter months, the amount of clothing we wear, and time spent indoors, we are not receiving anything remotely close to acceptable levels of vitamin D. Holick stressed the fact that “we require 1500-2000 IUs a day” and we are most definitely not getting this.
Ever wonder why you get aches and pains in the winter? Vitamin D deficiency. Got the flu? Should have had more vitamin D. “No question about it,” Holick said, during the winter months we are all woefully deficient, which in the long term can present serious health risks such as an increased risk of high blood pressure, higher blood sugar, and pre-type 2 diabetes. He has even done research studying the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and certain types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?! At this point in the lecture, I was pretty convinced that I would drop dead at any moment. I was the prime target: 19 years old, wears an inordinate amount of sunscreen, spends most of her day indoors, covers every square inch of flesh with clothing, and eats sensibly. Holick recommends, contrary to what we’ve been taught, we need 10 to 15 mins of direct sun exposure every day for our bodies to be able to process a healthy amount of vitamin D. In the Bostonian winter however this is essentially impossible. And until reasonably priced personal LED UV light devices hit the market, I guess I’ll be seeing you all at CVS picking up a bottle of vitamins.
Overall, Dr. Holick’s lecture was insanely fun and informative. Please tell all of your friends and enemies about the wonders of vitamin D. They will thank you for your concern and secretly think you are out of your mind, but who cares? As Dr. Michael Holick put it, “don’t be an idiot,” get your vitamin D!