Deconstructing the Deception & Stop Fearing the Sun

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie, from And this episode is all about vitamin D. And it might call some of your assumptions about vitamin D into question. And this is one I personally was looking forward to a lot and learned a lot from. And it lines up with some things I have found in my own research and experience. But definitely, there will be some controversial statements in this podcast. And I would encourage you to listen with an open mind when hearing potentially some of these things for the first time.
I’m here with Jim Stephenson, who is an expert in the field of vitamin D research. And knows more about it than probably anybody I’ve ever talked to. And his research actually began when a family member had health issues that included severe osteoporosis at the age of 51. And in trying to help her, this family member was prescribed 50,000 IU of vitamin D, which actually caused her to continue to decline and get worse. And this led to Jim really doing deep research on the topic of vitamin D.
And we go deep on this today. He talks about things he discovered in his research, and things like that supplementing with vitamin D could actually be making things worse, not better. And he explains why in this podcast. We go deep on a lot of things related to vitamin D, including the claim that supplemental vitamin D might be very harmful. And why most of the work done on Vitamin D has been just associative data and why this is important. The difference between D3, the intermediate molecule, versus the storage form versus the active form, and why that’s important to understand. We talk about the different forms of vitamin D we can test for, and how to actually test the active form of vitamin D in the body, why that distinction is important. Why he personally does not ever recommend taking an isolated oral form of vitamin D, even D3. And we talk about things like Vitamin K and magnesium, and how they actually come into play in the vitamin D equation. We talk about the genetic components of vitamin D. And why you aren’t going to get above a certain level on a vitamin D test naturally, and also why sometimes high levels might actually be a bad sign, not a good sign.
We talk about misconceptions about vitamin D during pregnancy. And then we go deep on the difference between getting vitamin D from a supplement versus making it in the body from sun exposure. We talk about the sulfated form of vitamin D3 that occurs from sun exposure. We talk about 7D hydro cholesterol form from the sun, which is not present in supplements. Why the most important molecule from sun exposure can’t be obtained from a supplement. We talk about PUFAs. We talk about how viruses come into play with the vitamin D equation, what to do if you’ve actually taken a whole lot of vitamin D in oral form and think it might have caused an issue. And he talks about why sun exposure might actually help avoid certain types of cancer. And what to know about sunscreen, how much sun exposure, cautions around that. And including things like why we should not wear sunglasses. So we got a lot of different directions on this podcast.
Like I said, there are some statements that may be considered controversial if you have a traditional understanding of vitamin D. But I love Jim’s approach to this and the questions he brings up, and kind of getting back to a first principles approach of understanding vitamin D in the body, not just in a lab testing form. So like I said, a warning, some of these statements may sound controversial to you, if this is new information. I found it really fascinating. I hope that you will as well. Let’s join Jim. Jim, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Jim: Well, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Katie: Well, I’m very excited to go deep on the topic of vitamin D today. I think there’s so much misinformation floating around. And I think you are such an important voice on this topic. And before we get to go deep on that, though, I have a note from your bio, that you work in a hydroelectric dam in the Columbia River. And I am fascinated to hear a little bit more about that.
Jim: Oh, it’s really cool. So I work at Priest Rapids Dam, which was built in the late 40s. And it’s just really exciting. The county that I work in has some of the lowest power prices in the United States, in the lowest three, I think. It’s really cool and really interesting. And there’s a lot of aspects to it. I got to work in a hydroelectric dam, because I used to work in salmon survival studies for the out migration of the young Smoltz going out to the ocean. So we’d see if they survive the dam. So I cut my teeth on that science.
Katie: That’s so fascinating. And I know that you also have a whole lot of expertise around the topic of vitamin D. And this is one certainly people hear about. And it can be a controversial topic, especially when connected to the topic of sunlight exposure, which we will also talk about. But to start kind of broad and foundational, let’s start with the big question of, is vitamin D harmful? Because I think that a lot of the information we see in, at least, headlines and medical articles, relate to a lot of people needing more vitamin D or vitamin D being deficient. So let’s start broad and maybe give us a primer on that.
Jim: Okay. Yeah, most of the work that they’ve done on it, unfortunately, is association. So they’re looking at all of the people and then they’ll look at subsets of sick people, maybe with specific cancers, or something like that. And they’ll find that these people have low 25D, which is the form that the liver makes some stores out of the D3 that you either take, eat, or make in the sun. And so that form is measured. And there’s an assumption that if that’s low, there’ll be a shortage of the active form, which it becomes, without ever measuring that, without any of the studies ever showing that it’s just a mid-focus on a storage molecule that isn’t very realistic in sick people. It’s kind of naive to think that sick people would have low vitamin D. But the only reason that’s happening is because they’re looking at the intermediate molecule rather than the active form.
Katie: So can you explain a little bit of the difference between that inactive molecule and the active form or the intermediate molecule and the active form?
Jim: Sure. The D3 that you take travels in your body and makes its way to the liver, where it is changed, altered into the storage form 25D. Then the body has to make a decision to release that. And it’ll release that, because you need an immune response. Maybe you have Epstein Barr, or Lyme, or any number of pathogens, maybe you have a cold. So your body’s going to want to make specific things, what I refer to as chemical and biological warriors. It’s going to want possibly some macrophages, some T cells, various white blood cells. That’s what the active form of vitamin D does, is it makes those things that the body wants.
Katie: And even when it comes to testing, I know there are different things related to vitamin D that we can test in blood tests, from my understanding. What are the different forms and at which point of that process are those forms when we’re testing them?
Jim: Okay, so almost all the testing is going to be 25D, that’s the storage molecule. What they’re testing is the amount that is in the blood at the time. And that’s the amount the body was willing to release into the blood at that time. It’s by no means everything you have. You have tons of storage of vitamin D, it’s a fat-soluble molecule. So it’s stored all over in the body, it’s even stored in bone. But when people get in trouble with vitamin D, because of certain pathogens, like I mentioned earlier, Epstein Barr, these pathogens are still around today because they found a way to block the action of vitamin D. They’ll make a bacterial ligand or better known as an antigen, which turns out to be the same shape as vitamin D, and therefore it can steal the vitamin D receptors. So its presence in your body is causing you to make the active form to wage war on the pathogen. But the pathogen is taking the vitamin D receptor, so your body is paralyzed in making the chemical and biological warriors that will take on the Epstein Barr, for example.
The body can’t make those chemical and biological warriors, but at the same time, the active form of vitamin D will then begin to steal other nuclear receptor systems like the thyroid. That’s why you really need to check the active form of D if you’re sickly, are struggling with 25D numbers. That’s the first go to, you better check that. Because the first thing you’ll probably lose is your thyroid if you don’t have vitamin D receptors for the active form of vitamin D in your body.
Katie: So how would a person go about checking that active form, if that’s not the one that we’re most often testing?
Jim: You have to have a conversation with your doctor. And not all doctors are going to end up being willing to test it. It’s going to have a lot to do with your doctor, how you present it, the reasons why you want it checked. Not having the active form of vitamin D, not having enough of the active form of vitamin D in the body is definitely life threatening. So you want to check that for sure. Unfortunately, we’re finding that the people that have the lowest 25D have the highest 125D, the active form. So that’s why…their body is literally sequestering the 25D from the serum to protect you from that runaway situation I just described.
Katie: And from my understanding, because vitamin D is fat soluble, actually there can be a scenario where you have too much of it in the body. How much of a concern is that actually? And is this a thing that’s happening when someone is testing that 25 form, and supplementing with a whole lot of vitamin D? Because of that, are they going to end up with too much of the active one?
Jim: The active one, they can end up with too much of the active one. And the way to guard that is to not input any more of the D3. But that molecule has a really short half-life. You really get in trouble with the D3, D2, D3, or 25D because they have a really long half-life, especially if you end up storing them. Typically, the body doesn’t store very much D3 or have very much D3 in your blood. It rapidly converts or gets stored…typically gets converted then stored. But when you have what they call super doses, when you take super doses of D3, you’ll have a certain amount of D3 in the blood. The body will make a certain amount of 25D, it has a slope of the line. And then as soon as the 25D is saturated in blood, then the D3 will build. So pretty soon you have a lot of D3 and a lot of 25D in your blood that has a really long half-life, several weeks, versus 8 to 12 hours for the active form.
Katie: Okay. And you mentioned these, like, big doses that people take. And I know there’s all kinds of advice I’ve heard people get from taking, like, a sort of loading dose of a huge amount of vitamin D to taking a smaller amount per day. And I’ve even heard things like, you know, anything less than 10,000 IU is considered a safe range for daily. What are your thoughts on that, dosing? Or should we not even be considering taking this, especially without testing?
Jim: I actually can’t justify any reason to take an isolated pill of vitamin D. I don’t even think you can realistically load your blood very much even with the food sources, which contain a lot of vitamin D. When you struggle to raise your 25D, that’s the body not wanting it. And that’s what people don’t want to realize. They think that somehow sick people are using 5, 10 times more vitamin D, getting and staying sick. That doesn’t make any sense. You don’t burn through those kinds of volumes of vitamin D, your body’s literally ignoring it. You notice, there’s no checking… If you had somebody low in protein, and they were taking a lot of protein, you’d look for where the protein is being malabsorbed. You know, you’d try to find it in their waste. But we don’t do that with vitamin D. Whenever the 25D doesn’t go up like they like, they tell you to just take more. They don’t ever look to see where it’s going.
Katie: That makes sense when you use the protein analogy. And it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to just keep them stacking this if it’s not working. What about things like, we hear things that certain other nutrients are kind of, like, cofactors or synergistic with vitamin D. I know vitamin K gets included in that conversation a lot. Magnesium is often sometimes mentioned. Are there things that help that pathway? Or is that also a misconception?
Jim: They’re not going to help you in the acquisition of the vitamin D. Those molecules all work synergistically with it in some form or fashion down the road. They don’t work in the acquiring of it. Say you go in the sun, you’re gonna make vitamin D. And in this case, it’s not a matter of absorption, your body chooses to make it. Some people will say you need vitamin K to absorb vitamin D. That’s absolutely not true. Vitamin K is another fat soluble, that when you take it in the gut, it’s going to be picked up by the lymphatic system. It’s going to be LDL cholesterol that shuttles it around. It may not make it where you want it just like the vitamin D may not make it where you want it. Maybe it gets stored in the first fat along the journey.
Katie: And are there genetic components here as well? I know from my own research, there are certain genes that are at least mentioned, like VDR genes in affecting how our body interacts with vitamin D. So is there kind of a genetic personalized component to this as well?
Jim: Well, when it comes to the VDR snips, which are part of, in my mind, the MTHFR genome, those things are meant to be an advantage. The MTHFR genome that a fetus inherits is determined by the photo period present at conception. So a lot of mutations are meant to be an advantage. And that’s the case with that. And that’s tied to the folate world as well, not just vitamin D. So, the genetic piece, what I’ve seen is that, when you read say, Genetic Genie, and it talks about the VDR snips, it tells you right there in their explanation of it, that the people with the snips are low, but so is the general population. So you have to step back and realize, pretty much everybody’s labeled low these days. It’s really hard to have the right number unless you had some of the utmost health. Some of the healthiest people without any inputs of pills and stuff, do have relatively high numbers. But you’re not going to get over 60 naturally, okay? You’re just not. That’s a barrier. And you’re not going to do it with food because food’s only meant to be about 10% of your inputs. The one snip that is really important is the BSM one, and that one over-converts the D to the active form quite rapidly. So those people will typically probably have lower 25D, than people without that snip. But that doesn’t mean that they have a deficiency. You can’t determine a deficiency until you look at the end product.
Katie: That makes sense. And another general category I want to make sure we at least touch on is, pregnant women are often told that they have a higher need for vitamin D, or that vitamin D is very important during pregnancy. Is it true that pregnant women are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D? And does the body use a lot of extra during pregnancy?
Jim: No, it’s actually the opposite. Women have very high spikes of the active form of vitamin D when they’re pregnant, 40% spikes in vitamin D. So they’re being told that they’re deficient when they actually are almost in a hypervitaminosis D situation. So that’s not true. And that’s the same with anybody. Everybody that’s ever taken the time to read a study that talks about the deficiency, it might mention the 125D and tell you that it’s the active form, and tell you what it does. But then as you move through the report, you’re gonna find they never measured it, They only measure the 25D. And they assumed that that is the cause of these people being sick, but it’s not. Most of those people would have normal or high active vitamin D.
Katie: That’s so interesting. And this brings me to the part I’m perhaps most excited to really delve into and to sort of undo some misconceptions about, which is the difference between supplemental forms of vitamin D and getting sun exposure, and having that happen naturally within the body. I mean, it’s no secret that within the last few decades, especially, there’s been a lot of attention to the sun being bad for us, and a lot of recommendations to wear sunscreen, avoid the sun. And we’re just statistically spending a lot more time indoors. So maybe starting on a broad level, can you walk us through any differences physiologically that are happening when we get vitamin D from a supplement versus from the sun?
Jim: So when you make it from the sun, getting back to the fact that absorption isn’t an issue, you’re making it in your body, it’s already acquired as it’s made, so to speak. That form can be in a water soluble or a fat-soluble version, you make a sulfated form of D3. So that’s made in the sun. Very seldom is it measured. It’s a pretty important form. But here’s what people don’t understand, when you go in the sun, the sun’s going to act on a molecule that’s in your skin. It’s called 7D hydro cholesterol. It’s a form of cholesterol, it’s not cholesterol that you normally refer to. And cholesterol is also made out of this. Vitamin D isn’t made out of cholesterol. Both vitamin D and cholesterol are made from 7D hydro cholesterol. It’s a photo liable molecule, the sun hits it and turns it into something else. It’s going to become vitamin D3 in your skin. But what people don’t realize is, it’s not done being converted by the sun. As you stay in the sun, it continues, you could call it degrade, but it continues to change and it becomes another molecule that’s known as L3, or Luma stearyl.
This is probably the most important pathway. And it’s not one you can mimic in the gut because the sun isn’t shining in your gut on the D3 you took. So this molecule charges other pathways that you cannot charge by taking vitamin D3. I refer to this pathway as the maintenance pathway. This pathway was discovered well after the 25D to 125D pathway. It’s the main pathway. It’s right at the heart of steroidogenesis. But we discovered the other one first. So that’s the one that has all our attention.
Katie: Interesting. So to make sure I’m understanding, this really important molecule that we can get from sun exposure that our body naturally knows how to handle is not one we can mimic from taking a supplemental form in the gut?
Jim: Correct. It’s a photo liable product made from D3. And it can also revert back to D3 without sun, just through thermal changes later. So it’s like a pressure valve, it can go both directions. It can go back to D3, or it can go forward and become any number of… There’s 15 main molecules in the first pathway. So, they’re really important. They work with other receptors. They’re vitamin D molecules, but they don’t go to vitamin D receptors, they go to orphaned retinoid receptors.
Katie: Can you explain more about what that means? Because I know retinoids are also kind of entering the nutrition conversation in a quite big way right now and in the anti-aging conversation. So, can you explain a little bit more about that?
Jim: So the receptors that I’m talking about now are called orphaned because when we first discovered receptors, we didn’t know what molecules went to them. Once we discovered those, we didn’t rename them, we left them called orphaned retinoid receptors. There’s other orphan receptors besides the retinoid ones. The retinoid receptors, much like vitamin D receptors, are expressed by tumors. It gets a little complicated because there’s two forms of these receptors. There’s one that’s called a nuclear one. And all that really means is, once it gets its molecules, then it goes into the nucleus of the cell. Whereas others are what they call membrane or cytoplasmic, and they stay on the surface of the cell. There’s two forms of vitamin D receptors, and there’s two forms of orphaned retinoid receptors, all expressed by tumors. And so, a lot of people have decided that vitamin D is going to go to a tumor and kill it. That’s the wrong side of the equation. It’s the other molecules that will go to the orphaned retinoid receptors that will take out the cancer.
Katie: Got it. And you mentioned, so there’s a lot of different things happening along this pathway and within the body from sun exposure that don’t happen from a supplemental form in the gut. And it sounds like some of those things may be involved in certain hormone creation or hormone levels. I know I’ve seen some recent information about how sun exposure, not supplemental vitamin D, can be really important for things like testosterone levels, which we know are declining in the population right now. But how does sun exposure-based vitamin D come into play when we’re talking about things like hormones?
Jim: Because it has other feedbacks, just like the 7D hydro cholesterol that it’s made from, because that’s at the heart of steroidogenesis. And you can make pregnenolone, or you could make the vitamin D molecules, your body’s balancing all of that. And a lot of these, what we’re calling hormones, are really…I refer to them as promiscuous molecules, because they will go to other receptors. And sometimes I think we think that’s a mistake and maybe it’s not. A perfect example would be proof of molecules. A lot of people are afraid of PUFA, but if you look at the molecules that are endocannabinoid molecules, a lot of them are PUFA molecules. So I wouldn’t necessarily label PUFA bad. I think you just have to understand, it’s a really complex system, and we’re already meddling in it. It’d be like someone with a thyroid issue. When you first get your thyroid, your baseline, not medicated at all, that’s a real baseline. After that, every doctor that’s treating you is going to be treating a treatment already in place. So it’s not like starting from a baseline.
So all these molecules, a lot of molecules that we’ve been told are inactive aren’t. For example, the active form of vitamin D breaks down to a form of acid. If you do your research, you’ll find out that that acid is capable of activating the vitamin D receptor. It’s not an inert waste product. Unfortunately, a lot of the vitamin D literature is muddied by the fact that they ignored molecules that didn’t influence calcium, called them inert, and didn’t look at what they do. And then strive to create synthetic molecules that don’t dabble in calcium because we’re having hypercalcemia issues. So those were probably the molecules we should have looked further into that did other magical things.
Katie: That makes sense. And in researching for this, I read some of your work, and you talk about things like how excess vitamin D…and I would assume you’re talking about the supplemental form of vitamin D, can create problems on the nuclear receptor systems, which relate to thyroid, and adrenal, and glucocorticoid. I always butcher that word. But can you explain what’s happening there?
Jim: Sure. So, normally, vitamin D, the active form of vitamin D, is tightly regulated. The amount of it made is tightly regulated. But when vitamin D, that active form has… Epstein Barr, for example, has EBNA1, is one of its antigens. When EBNA1 is in the vitamin D receptor, its presence in your body is going to make your body activate the form of vitamin D to the active form, but it’s not going to be able to get in that receptor. So, the tight regulation would have to do with its affinity, its attraction to the receptors. And so, because of tight regulation, it’s not that important how attracted it is to the thyroid receptor. But the minute it’s not tightly regulated, it does matter. It doesn’t have a home. It’s like you pull in the parking lot, and your space is taken. You know, you got a park somewhere. And so it will take the thyroid receptor, it will take the beta receptor away from T3. Then when you look at the affinity of the molecules to their own receptors, T3 is… Let me back up. 125D is more attracted to the thyroid receptor than T3 is. So the minute that it doesn’t have its own receptors to go to, it will displace T3 from its own receptor.
But the more important thing that people don’t realize is that, not only does the vitamin D system make the chemical warriors, some of the other systems make chemical warriors too. The thyroid, the adrenal, they make some of the same…they’re called antimicrobial peptides or defensins. They make some of the same ones that the vitamin D receptor does. So the minute that your vitamin D, active form, can’t get to its receptor, it can’t make chemical or biological warriors, it can’t deal with calcium, it can’t kill the pathogens, it can’t do anything. But what it can do is it can steal the other receptors, and then they lose their ability to run their system, your whole thyroid system stops working. But the thing people don’t realize is they’re making antimicrobial peptides and defensins also. And these are the most important defense you have because the pathogens can’t become immune to those molecules. They’re like acid to them, and it will always destroy them. So the way that they block that is by blocking their creation. Even leprosy blocked the mRNA that would have made the antimicrobial peptides. So, even that avoided the vitamin D system. And that’s the oldest human disease.
Katie: Wow. So if I’m understanding this, people, for instance, who maybe already have a thyroid issue, or suspect they do, are often told to take vitamin D to help their thyroid and to help their immune system, etc. And this could actually be making the problem worse and causing the thyroid to become less effective?
Jim: Exactly. It absolutely could. Any of the nuclear receptor systems, that can happen to. And that’s where I get at that, they’re promiscuous molecules. So when the vitamin D active form can’t get to its receptor, its own receptor, it can’t down regulate itself. And then the next step in the human body is for it to null, N-U-L-L, to stop expressing vitamin D receptors. And when it does that, that adjusts your sensitivity of vitamin D. Those are the people that we’re labeling low. And there’s also the non-responsive to inputs people. So let’s imagine you have this study on the dreaded C that we’ve just been through. And they take 10,000 people and they look at their vitamin D levels. They’re going to ultimately tell you that the ones with lower 25D do worse. And they do, because they’re already sick, because they have low 25D because their body is sequestering that to protect them from the runaway active form, from a cytokine storm. Then they take all those people and they give them vitamin D, and this is where they really drive home the falsehood. Then the people whose 25D increases from inputs do better, yes, because they’re not ignoring vitamin D, they’re not already in that dysregulated VDR deactivation mode.
Those are the healthier people that don’t have comorbid conditions. But then they hang their hat on the 25D and everybody believes it, because that’s all they focused on. Had you looked at the people who did the worst, they would have had the highest active form of vitamin D, the opposite of a deficiency. They can’t tell you that the people that did the worst had the highest levels of vitamin D. They don’t want to tell you that because we’re all believing in this pandemic deficiency that everyone’s suffering from. And it’s just not true.
Katie: And this seems like an extreme case of correlation does not equal causation, but they’ve certainly linked those things. And it sounds like based on that, we are literally pouring fuel on this fire by assuming that low vitamin D is A, the problem, and that B, fixing it requires taking a lot of oral vitamin D. Do we avoid those problems when the body’s making its own vitamin D from sun exposure?
Jim: Yes, by and large you do. Uh-huh. There’s a few disease states that you can have, the sun can be an issue. And we don’t know a whole lot about those diseases. And I haven’t specifically stated… Sarcoidosis is one of them, lupus looks like one of them. And with lupus, a lot of lupus people and scleroderma people can have antibodies to the active form of vitamin D. But I don’t know if there are other pathways that the body could be utilizing that do similar things. We just don’t know enough, unfortunately.
Katie: And this makes me really curious on the practical level, then. Like, how each of us, I say often on here, you know, we’re each our own primary health care provider. We day to day control the inputs our body’s getting. And one of my big goals on this podcast is to help us figure out the best way to do that with the individualization and personalization that comes into play. So I’m guessing there are a lot of people listening who have probably taken, at the advice of a practitioner, a lot of oral vitamin D in the past, or are still taking it. And certainly, a lot of people who are afraid of the sun and think it’s very good to avoid the sun entirely. So I’d love to start kind of going through these different cases within the body of, like, if someone has taken a whole lot of vitamin D, is there a way to get the body back to a more natural point with that?
Jim: Yeah, you’re gonna have to just… When it comes to inputs, you’re going to want to always try to find them in food, first and foremost. So you’re gonna want to have what we call the cofactors in your body, while storage is being liberated over the long haul and stuff. So you want to make sure you’re getting good dietary sources of boron, and K, vitamin K, you probably want to eat some fermented foods, you want to look at prebiotics, not just probiotics, things like that. You just want to have a really healthy diet so that you can…if your body’s able to use the molecules as its liberated, you will need those cofactors. You do need magnesium at every step of activation for it. You do need the vitamin K to work synergistically and make sure you don’t calcify your arteries. So after you quit taking the vitamin D, you want to still make sure that you’re eating really good sources of cofactors. Just really good food in general. You know, it’s super important.
Katie: That makes sense. Okay, so some of the things we’ve been told about vitamin K and magnesium being important, that’s true, it’s just wasn’t the whole story, or we had a misunderstanding of how those things were actually interacting with oral forms of vitamin D within the body. But when we’re getting sun exposure, and our body’s producing vitamin D, those things are still important for the way that that’s used in the body.
Jim: Exactly, especially as it’s liberated and stuff, you’re going to want to have those there in case your body wants to activate it and use it. I think the body ignores most of the vitamin D that people are deciding the need to add, in addition. I think it ignores almost all of that really, to be honest with you. It’s not a very good way to acquire it. It’s an inferior acquisition method. And that’s why you only get about 10% of your vitamin D there. And I talked about this in a couple podcasts recently.
The literature is now showing that it looks like the angiosperm families of plants and stuff contain vitamin D. And that’s pretty important because these are going to be some of the crops that we harvest at the end of the summer, that we start eating into the fall, pumpkin, and squash, lentils, cereal grains, which is 70% of foods to begin with, I think. So, a lot of things contain vitamin D, and we’re just not told it. And if it contains 25D, anything that naturally contains D3 like salmon or eggs, things like that, they also contain 25D. Some things contain the active form of vitamin D, nightshades like tomatoes do, tomatoes have the active form of vitamin D. You won’t find any of that on the label. The nutritional label is only going to have D3 on there.
So there’s a lot of other good sources of D. But again, you’re not going to get your lion’s share that way. Plus that’s the pathway they got us focused on, like you said. So there’s a counterpart to 25D in that other pathway, it’s 20D. Just like there’s a counterpart to 125D, it’s 120D. And those numbers are just where the backbone of the molecule is hydroxylated, where it’s added. It’s added at position 25 to begin with on 25D, and then it’s added in addition on position one, so that’s 125D. That’s all those numbers are. But where it’s altered, there’s a certain spot on there. And if you alter it there, it’s always going to have calcium impacts. Other ones won’t impact calcium. Unfortunately, all the molecules they abandoned were the non-calcium analogs, which is what people need today, because tons of people are suffering from hypercalcemia.
Katie: So how do we get more of those? And maybe a question that goes along with that, that I would guess the answer to based on what we’ve already said is, if someone suspects they have too much vitamin D from taking oral vitamin D, do they also need to avoid the sun in the short term until their body gets back to normal levels?
Jim: No, they don’t need to avoid the sun. It has feedbacks. And it’s not going to make too much, with few exceptions. I did mention sarcoidosis. And I’m not absolutely certain that that’s an issue. But I think that the research is pretty clear that Trevor Marshall has done on that. That the sun can be harmful via the eyes for that kind of disease. Here’s the take home message though. A lot of people have read not to wash their arms or forearms after they make vitamin D. That doesn’t really apply to the D3, the main 25D pathway that everybody’s really trying to focus on. But it does apply to those other pathways that I’m talking about. And there’s not any science to show that. But you can read some of these other molecules are made, they’re literally sunscreens that your body is making. So they inevitably, I’m sure, rise to the surface and protect you. So we probably do remove too many oils. You also have a skin flora that you don’t want to mess with just like you have a gut flora.
So I think that, you know, pits and groin, unless you’re soiled, you really want to let the body’s oils do some of that work. And I think that’s probably why we get in trouble. We go in the sun and we get… We’re only really supposed to get mundane cancers if we go in the sun, because the sun’s like your anti-cancer vaccine. And it prevents a lot of other diseases and works on a lot of other diseases like TB and other things like that. So, you don’t want to avoid the sun, but you want to get reasonable sun.
Katie: Got it. So the body has built in mechanisms to make sure that it’s getting the correct amount of all these things from sun exposure. And it sounds like even kind of protective mechanisms that come into play that keep us from getting too much, even if we’re in the sun a whole lot. I would guess your recommendation as well would be, we don’t want to be in the sun to the point of causing damage from burning. Everybody seems to agree on that.
But my intuition is that, in general, at least in America, we are not in danger of that so much as we are in danger of, like, sun deficiency. And you mentioned sort of these anti-cancer properties of sun exposure. I would love to talk more about these, because I’ve taken heat for saying before that I think lack of sun exposure is one of the big risk factors that we’re having in modern society for all these other cancers. And there is data that shows that. And people get so upset and say, you know, skin cancer can also be really dangerous.
And I want to take it back to first principles and say, first of all, that assumes that the sun is the cause of skin cancer and the only cause of skin cancer. But secondly, that ignores the fact that some of these other cancers that we know sun exposure can help protect against have a much higher mortality rate, and people get them in much higher rates than just skin cancer. So there’s obviously many factors to consider. But can you explain more about what you mean by these anti-cancer molecules that can come from sun exposure?
Jim: So those are made in that other pathway that I was talking about. It’s made by another enzyme, a different enzyme than makes the 25D. And there’s a host of molecules there, 20(OH)D3 is one of them. That enzyme can act on the D2 molecules that people ingest. Like, if you’re eating D2, or maybe even taking D2, it can go down that other pathway, believe it or not. It won’t even get tracked. So these are going to be the molecules that people truly lack, because they’re the ones we’re not measuring. They do all kinds of amazing things in the body. And there’s no other way to get them.
And I think a lot of people are probably… Two things, they’re probably removing the good molecules, which may lead to cancer. And at the same time, there are other molecules besides vitamin…like tryptophan is one of the things that’s in your skin that reacts in sun and then prevents DNA mutations and stuff like that. And then you have your people that are using sunscreen, which is blocking the UVB, so you’re not making vitamin D, and UVA causes a lot of harm. So they’re causing harm on one side. And at the same time, they’re not making the vitamin D molecules that would be helping them with the harm. So how many of those people getting cancer are utilizing sunscreen and only getting UVA?
Katie: Yeah, this is such an important point and also one that I’ve taken heat for talking about. But I’ve said that before, because there’s such a recommendation from every dermatologist I’ve ever heard from, to always use sunscreen for even mild sun exposure. They’re not even telling people wear sunscreen, even if you’re just in your car, getting sun through a window, or if you’re walking between a store and your car, always wear sunscreen. And I think a lot of that focuses on the anti-aging side and people not wanting to have aging on their skin. But I think it ignores a much bigger body of evidence about the importance, as you explained, and how, from what I’ve read, even small amounts of sunscreen can kind of entirely blunt those important things that we’re talking about. Is that right?
Jim: Yeah, it can. Absolutely. And what do those molecules do? There’s all kinds of bad stuff in sunscreen. You might find out that’s another promiscuous molecule that steals some sort of receptor in your body, I really don’t know. I haven’t studied sunscreens, but they’re not good. They’re definitely not good for you. People think they are. You’d be better off covering up with a piece of clothing.
Katie: Exactly. Or getting shade, wearing a hat to make sure you’re only getting the appropriate amount of sun exposure. I think that’s an important part of this conversation as well. But, you know, there’s been a lot of mainstream attention now recently on morning sunlight and how morning sunlight is so important for the receptors in our eyes, and our melatonin cycle with circadian rhythm. I’m hopeful that we’re going to now have a wave to talk about midday sun exposure and skin exposure, and all the important signals that gives to the body. Because we’ve talked a lot about vitamin D. It also goes far beyond just vitamin D, as you’ve explained really well. The light itself is an important signaling mechanism on the skin. But hopefully, we’re convincing people that the sun isn’t to be feared in the way we’ve been told. What would be any guidelines for good sun exposure? Like, if we wanted to optimize all these things through sun exposure, what would be some guidelines to be aware of to make sure we do it in the correct way?
Jim: Now, I don’t know all this stuff about setting the tone in the morning red light. But I am going to address when you’re going to sun for your healthy vitamin D or healthy sun exposure. So, people, you don’t want to burn, absolutely don’t want to burn, but you can momentarily turn pink. That is not a burn. Make sure you distinguish between the two. If I go out in the sun and I get a decent… They call it a erythemal dose, I believe is what it’s called. When you go out in the sun, you can turn pink and come back inside and later you’re not burned. What you were doing was you were sunning your blood, that’s why you looked pink. Your body was moving the blood into the skin and out of the vascular system. And a lot of people tell you, it’s gathering photons of light that is going to carry back into the body, if you want to go to the quantum world.
But regardless, during that time, your blood pressure is lowered because you actually move blood into your tissues and out of your vascular system. The difference between that and burning is if it goes away or not. So you don’t want to stay in the sun and then go inside and it’s a burn. You may not peel from it, but if it doesn’t go away when the blood moves back into the vascular system, that was too much sun. So use that as your guide. Don’t immediately think just because you turn pink, you got too much sun. That might be just the right amount.
Katie: Good to know. And obviously there’s going to be a lot of individuality here based on someone’s skin tone, and if they’re used to being in the sun, and where they live in the world, and how intense that sun exposure is. But it seems like most people could benefit from starting with even just like 5 or 10 minutes of midday sun and working up. You know, people refer to it as kind of, like, a solar callus, and sort of building the body’s tolerance to the sun. But you also have people who say things like, you know, any tan or color whatsoever on your skin is a sign of sun damage and should be avoided entirely. What’s your take on that?
Jim: No, you can pigment yourself, it just depends on how you pigmented yourself. Did you end up getting darker but you also lost two layers of skin because you didn’t just turn pink like I said? Chris Cross writes a little bit about what I was just talking about at The Sunlight Institute, about how arteriosclerosis can possibly be prevented by reasonable sun. And it’s 10 to 15 minutes, even just hands and face is enough to see a change in your vitamin D levels. Michael Holick has studied this. It doesn’t have to be your whole body.
One thing you do have to do is you have to make sure that you don’t have a UV filter in your retina. Your retina needs to… I’m not telling you to look at the sun. I want to be really clear. There are people who look at sun. I’m not getting into that world. But I’m just saying, the light needs to actually be able to go into your eye from over there, wherever. You don’t want a UV shield, because your retina then is going to handle the melanogenesis. So it’s going to rearrange the melanin you have now on the fly, to prevent you from burning, but it’s also going to summon new in the future.
So medical students learn that UV sunglasses, you’re more apt to burn in the sun. So when you’re getting your healthy, reasonable sun, you want to make sure you’re not shielding your eyes. A lot of us lay there with our eyes closed, you need to open your eyes, look around occasionally. Let some light in there so your body can react to the sun in your body. You don’t have to lay there the whole time looking around, but you don’t want to just black out your eyes. Your retina is part of the game.
Katie: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up because I live in an area where the beach is very, very close. And in the summer, I see tons of people spraying on these aerosol sunscreens, wearing sunglasses, often still getting sunburned. But it makes me think of all these kind of things that they could be optimizing in their favor, so much more. And I feel like the light receptors in the eyes, actually signaling the body’s natural protective response of melanin is not talked about enough. And so many people just automatically wear sunglasses, either as a fashion statement or because it’s bright out. And they’ve just kind of habituated to doing that. But as you explained, just not looking at the sun, I agree with you on that.
But having sun exposure happening around you when your eyes are open in the light helps the body’s natural process keep you from burning too much, along with of course, safe amount of sun exposure and not going from zero to an hour without working up and making sure the body’s getting everything correctly. But I think this is such an important point and one that’s often missed.

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I know people are also going to say, well, you know, what about skin cancer? And I don’t know if this is something that you’re comfortable talking about. But do we put ourselves at an increased risk for skin cancer when we’re getting just adequate, moderate, normal amounts of sun exposure and not burning?
Jim: I think you do put yourself at risk for the mundane cancers. Some people do get in trouble with cancer. I don’t want to sound like I’m callous, and don’t care that some people get skin cancer. But it’s a lot like the premise of exposure to a natural pathogen that we try to mimic with vaccines. So the sun is going to help you prevent all these other cancers and other diseases. But along the way, your body’s gonna have to learn to fight through that. So you probably will have some skin cancer one way, at least pre-skin cancers, AKs, or SK, whatever they’re called, that’s probably going to happen. But along the way, you’re going to avoid life threatening diseases. You know, they studied this quite a bit in the military, with all the people out on the ships. And I can send you some papers about that, along with the World Health Organization numbers on how many other burdens of disease are avoided by that. I’ll send you those papers when we’re done here.
Katie: Awesome. And I’ll link to those in the show notes. I think another aspect of this that is not as well studied, and certainly not as well talked about is the internal and dietary connections with our diet and what’s entering our body, and our body’s ability to protect itself from the sun in the normal ways that we’ve talked about here. And I have posts talking about sort of the idea of almost like eating your sunscreen, by making sure your body has the right bioavailable nutrients for all these things to happen correctly in the body so that you don’t burn, and so that you can get normal sun exposure without increasing your risk of these other problems. And I’ve seen this play out purely anecdotally.
But when I changed my diet and started getting a lot more micronutrients, making sure that I was getting enough from food, all these fat-soluble vitamins, I stopped burning. I have an Irish background. I, growing up, always burned very, very quickly. And when I reduced inflammation in my body, made sure I was giving myself enough micronutrients and vitamins in general, I actually stopped burning. And now I can get quite a bit of sun exposure without burning, without turning red, without having any of those issues.
But I think that’s an area that we haven’t even really explored enough. But it makes sense, especially in light of all these things you’ve explained already, how what we eat and our lifestyle also would impact whether or not sun exposure causes these problems, and to what degree it does.
Jim: Yeah, that’s actually fascinating. The only nutrient that I’ve actually looked at that I’ve seen tied to sun sensitivity was niacin, believe it or not. But anything that B vitamin family is going to…it’s hard for people to get, we have a lot of issues surrounding that, neural tube defects, tongue ties, all kinds of stuff. We have the folic acid to be concerned with, you know, versus reduced folates and stuff. So all that’s really important. And I think actually you’re really onto something there. There probably is a diet that would work really good with a lot of sun exposure now that I think about it.
Katie: Yeah, it’s something I hope that we study more because I know that we can look at examples of having studied indigenous populations in very high sun areas who don’t get skin cancer. And of course, we haven’t gotten very nuanced with all of the factors that come into play there. But it just seems like it’s a conversation worth having. But as we talk about vitamin D and sun exposure being the best way for our body to produce it naturally, I know we’re also going to get questions about, what about in the winter when it’s much harder to get sun exposure, or impossible to get sun exposure, or people who live in areas where there just isn’t very much sun? And I would love your take on that, because I know we’re gonna get those questions.
Jim: Okay. Well, first of all, we’ve let them convince us that there’s a shortage of vitamin D, by only looking at the intermediate storage molecule, 25D. So you have to keep going back to that. Who’s ever been shown to be low in the 125D? The only people typically that are gonna be low in 125D are people that have a defect making it. So, hyperparathyroidism and chronic kidney disease, those people. And then what do we do for those people? We have to give them 125D, because they can’t make it. And being low in 125D…and I’ve only talked to people that have one of these conditions, those are the only people I’ve ever talked to that had been found to be low in that. And so, it’s not a real thing.
And let’s talk about the winter for a second. So, what they’ve done is they’ve convinced people that they have lower vitamin D in the winter. Well, they do have lower 25D because they have lower D3. Those two have a seasonal variation. You don’t make D3 all year. Therefore, there’s not a certain amount of it always passing through your liver. Certain amounts always going to go through your liver and be made, not in the totally controlled fashion. You know, that’s going to happen. But the vast majority of what your liver makes and releases is a voluntary thing. It’s because your body wants a macrophage made or a T cell, is a foregone conclusion, the body summoning those molecules, because it has an end goal for them.
But that’s just those molecules. The active form of vitamin D doesn’t have a seasonal variation. It’s based upon your immune response at any given time. You could have it really high in the summer, maybe you got sick somehow in the summer. But that’s not typical. If you stop and think about when do people get sick, with the exception of polio, people get sick in the winter. It has to do with absolute humidity and congregations of people traveling, carrying different strains, different places, seeing people they haven’t seen. We organize people, we have Christmas break, we have all these things going on, end of quarters or semesters. So we get sick in the winter. We do not have an immune system that takes the winter off. We would not still be around today. We would have perished eons ago. So you have to look at the active form of vitamin D that has no seasonal variation. And that’s finished science. It’s written by Hector DeLuca, the godfather of vitamin D. There’s no seasonal variation in the molecules that do the work.
Katie: I think that key point alone totally shifts the conversation about vitamin D. And we did talk a little bit about testing already. But I’m curious for people who kind of take the same mindset I do of being their own primary health care provider, and now with the availability of being able to get testing on our own or working with a doctor now. When we’re talking about 125D, if someone was going to test this, what would they be looking for? What is a good range? And what is that test actually called? Is it a 125D test?
Jim: It is 125D. It is also called dihydroxy vitamin D. The 25D is called hydroxy vitamin D. The other one is dihydroxy vitamin D. So it’s 1,250H2D3, that’s its full name. But you just refer to it as the active form. And you do want to check. The result of that, like I said, you’re gonna find… If you’re low on it, you’re gonna end up chasing a defect, probably. You’re gonna have to talk to your doctor about hyperparathyroidism, you’re gonna have to talk about what your kidney function is like. But you’re gonna find it, 90% of people are going to find it normal, the sick people are going to find it high, especially if they’ve probably been taking a lot of vitamin D and their body isn’t responsive to it, they’ll find it high. So a lot of times people will just want me to assess a number. It depends on how they got there, especially if they want me to look at a ratio of 25D to 125D. I need to know how those numbers came to exist. You know, did you take a bunch of vitamin D and for how long? Did you have other tests? Because the ratio can kind of be helpful, more so in healthy people, just to show what it should be like to the other people.
Katie: Got it. And I feel like the key takeaway here that I’m hearing is that, while people are told that they’re vitamin D deficient, that is definitely not the whole story. And we’re focusing on the wrong molecule, which could actually be leading to all of these other problems that we have sort of explained. And that sun exposure is the body’s natural way to create the right amount of vitamin D without having those same problems that can come from supplementing it to high amounts with an oral vitamin D.
Jim: Right. And one other thing I didn’t mention earlier, but 25D isn’t just one molecule, 25D can be made from D2 inputs. So it can be a D2 25D, it can be made from D3 inputs. So it can be a D3 form of 25D. I found 15 different unique molecules of 25D, but the test that you’re going to go and get, it’s only going to look at the D2 and the D3 part of it, 2 out of 15 different ones. And there’s literature that shows that your body, when you’re having health issues, is going to make very specific forms of 25D, and it’s not going to be the ones they measure. One of them’s called the epi form, the epimerization form. Vitamin E is really complex. I don’t want to overwhelm people, but the body can send D3 to multiple pathways, epimerization is just one of them.
Katie: And this might be a somewhat controversial statement, but it sounds like from the case that you’re making, there almost is never a case when we want to take oral vitamin D. We want to get it from the sun whenever possible. Are there exceptions to that rule?
Jim: Yeah, if you had a defect, like let’s say, maybe you couldn’t make 25D, you might need to take 25D. Or if you had the hyperparathyroidism or the chronic kidney disease, you’re going to need that active form of D in those cases. You’re going to take the active form of D. You might have a lot of people that listen to this. I mentioned earlier that nightshades, tomatoes contain the active form of vitamin D, that would be one way to get the active form in their body. But I think you’ll have people that think they react to nightshades, or tomato. And Weston A. Price has a paper about it that says that that might be the reason why people react to nightshades is because they’re getting the active form of vitamin D.
Katie: That’s fascinating. So if someone has been taking oral vitamin D, and is now wanting to, in light of all this, shift to creating it from sun exposure instead, and hopefully letting those levels equalize in the body. Do we have any idea how long that process takes once someone stops taking oral vitamin D3?
Jim: So if we’re just talking about it being in blood and maybe being stored in the liver as D3, it won’t take very long. But if they took more than 2000 IU every day for a long time, they will have stored quite a bit of it as D3. And then at that point, it’s hard to say, it depends on whether they did some sort of diet that liberated a lot of fat or not. That gets really complex. So, hopefully, that isn’t the case. But in any of those cases, you’re just going to want to keep nutritional cofactors input into your body.
Katie: Yeah. And I know that there’s so much more to learn on this than we can cover in a one hour podcast. I have a link, and I’ll make sure it’s included in the show notes, but from your work on vitamin D deficiency, deconstructing the deception. And I believe that there’s a paper people can read on that. I’ll make sure that’s linked. Can you just talk a little bit more about that?
Jim: Okay. That’s probably one of the papers I put on my Substack. There’s a ton of stuff on my Facebook as well. People can join my Secosteroid Hormone D group. That’s where I’ve been putting stuff for a very long time. But what did you want me to specifically explain there? I’m sorry.
Katie: Just I’ll make sure that both of those links, Facebook page and the Substack, are there. But I know you have these resources on your Substack that I believe people can access for free and learn from you. Right?
Jim: The Substack, there are not so much free stuff there. I do have newsletters that I’ve written for everybody. But if you go to my Facebook page, I’ve been posting there forever. There’s papers galore. Once you’re a member, just go to the search function, search keywords, you’ll probably get buried. Once you see search keywords, you can then look by year, there’s a ton of stuff there. And if anybody needs any help, they can always reach out to me. I’m gonna send you some papers when we’re done, the ones we talked about. And get questions and we can always do another podcast. I definitely want people to understand it, because it’s very complex.
Katie: Well, I would love to do a follow up on this. I think we will have raised a lot of questions and have certainly made some statements that will go against what people have been told. I always love being able to take things back to first principles and look at actually what’s actually happening, not just the surface level correlative stuff that we’ve been told. So I think there will be a lot of follow up questions. And I look forward to getting to continue the conversation.
All the links that we’ve talked about, and the papers you send will be at for you guys listening, so you can find it, along with, I’ve been taking notes this whole time, so there’ll be some notes in the show notes there as well. And a couple last questions I love to ask at the end of interviews. The first being if there is a book or number of books that have really profoundly influenced your life. And if so, what they are and why.
Jim: Yeah, there’s a ton of books that have influenced me. I was thinking about this before the podcast. I think probably the most influential book I’ve ever read is called, “AIDS: The Crime Beyond Belief,” by Donald and Scott. That’s a book I read pretty early on getting into what I call the conspiratorial world. And this is a conspiracy obviously. That helped me get my mind around a lot of things and point me to other books and stuff. It talks about vaccine creation, even talks about JFK. It’s a really out there book, but I love that book, absolutely love that book.
Katie: I will link to that in the show notes as well. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to vitamin D and all the things we’ve talked about, or entirely unrelated?
Jim: I just say to people all the time, be careful what you believe. Unfortunately, the more time I spend looking at things, I’m finding that it’s the negative template. That’s something I picked up from Peter Dale Scott, he wrote a book called “Cocaine Politics.” We’re seeing the negative template. We’re being told that it’s a pandemic vitamin D deficiency. And unfortunately, it looks like it’s the opposite. We have a lot of sick people in trouble with vitamin D, and getting more in trouble with vitamin D every day. So, most things I found are not what we’re told. They’re polar opposite.
Katie: Well, I appreciate you being here and shedding light on this. I hope we’ve raised some interesting questions for people to look further into today. And I echo the statement, again, almost every podcast, reminding us that we’re all each our own primary health care provider. And I love being able to provide people tools to really start to delve in and research these things, and understand them on their own, so that we can, as our own primary health care providers, make better decisions and improve our health over time and the health of our children. So, Jim, thank you so much for your work around this and for being here today. I know I learned a lot and I am excited to do some further reading on these papers that you send. Thank you for being here.
Jim: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.
Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama Podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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