Vitamin D3 – Size Matters

When we see the bottles of supplements we are used to looking at milligrams.  But have you ever stopped for a minute to understand how much this weight represents.  This can be difficult when you are dealing with extremely small amounts.

The best way to get an idea of how much we are talking about is to take an object that we are familiar with and divide it up.  When we think about a standard aspirin, it is typically 325 milligrams.  But how big is a gram?  At 325 milligrams an aspirin represents about one third of a gram.  So, three standard aspirins is about a gram.  You can take three aspirins and hold them in your hand to get a feel for how much this weighs.

With vitamin D we talk about IU amounts.  Forty IU is equal to one microgram, so how much is that.  That would be a weight that is equivalent to taking those three aspirin and dividing them into 1 million pieces.  That is really hard to imagine.

Let’s take a mid-size car as something that you are familiar and do this division.  A car will typically weight about 2,200 lbs.  This is a convenient weight as there is 2.2 lbs per kilogram so there are 1000 Kilograms in 2,200 lbs.  That would be 1 million grams or 1000 x 1000.  Kilo is the term used when describing 1000 grams.  If you take that car and divide it into 1 million pieces you would have the weight of about three standard aspirin.  That is really not very much of that car.  It would represent maybe one of the buttons on the dash.

When we say milligrams we are taking one gram and dividing it by 1,000.  When we say micrograms we take one gram and divide it into 1 million pieces.  Compare this to taking that car and dividing it into a million pieces and you start to get an idea of how small an amount we are describing.

However, vitamin D3 typically does not say milligrams it is measured in IU or International Units.  The NIH is trying to change this designation to micrograms for vitamin D so that it makes more sense in understanding how much you are taking.  Some products are presently in micrograms like some of the B vitamins.  However, I see in press articles how this is confused.  That is milligrams are confused for micrograms and in vitamin D I have even seen IU confused with milligrams because that is what we are use to describing.

An International Unit is a measure of the bioactivity or biological activity of a substance.  For vitamin D, one IU would be equivalent to 0.025 micrograms of vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.  One IU of vitamin A is equivalent to 0.3 micrograms of retinol bioactivity.  IU’s are not the same equivalent weights for all substances but relates to the bioactivity of that substance.  Once this bioactivity has been established we can change the units to mass or weight.

For vitamin D we have 40 IU equal to 1 microgram by doing the math from above.  So when the government says that you only need 400 IU of vitamin D they are talking about 10 micrograms.  Continuing the math that means that 4,000 IU is 100 micrograms and to get to that familiar unit of milligram we would have to go all the way to 40,000 IU.  To get to a value that is equivalent to a gram we take 40,000 IU and multiply it by 1,000 or 40 million IU.  WOW!  We really are describing very tiny amounts.  Vitamin D is extremely biological active in very small amounts.

One researcher, Dr. Halcyon Skinner of Northwestern University, described a 43% reduction in pancreatic cancer by participants that were getting about 400 IU of vitamin D as compared to participants that were getting less than 150 IU.  Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive killer and if you know people that have had this disease you understand how significant the intake of vitamin D can be.  I will blog more about this, but you may read that news from the Life Extension Newsletter for September, 2006.

So now researchers are saying that many more cancers and many, many more chronic disease can be prevented by higher amounts of vitamin D and are suggestion that the total intake per day should be changed to 4,000 to 10,000 IU or 100 micrograms to 250 micrograms from all sources.

Part of the problem has been in measuring and understanding such minute amounts.  Part of the problem has been the medical institutions ignoring the facts for profit.  If you, your family and your friends have been suffering from any of these diseases, you should really question our agencies that are to protect us from such misadventures.

- Pandemic Survivor

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