The Sun, Vitamin D, Arthritis, and Happy Chimpanzees

56058083_pBerkeley, California nutrition writer Clara Felix was one of the early trailblazers in using nutrition to fight disease. In the late 1990s, when vitamin D researchers discovered we needed much more vitamin D than had previously been thought, Clara upped her intake to 4,000 IU per day. After three months, an arthritic knee that had failed to improve with exemplary lifestyle, good supplements and avoidance of allergens alone became completely normal again! She was delighted to report being able to squat and do deep knee bends for the first time in eight years.

It’s not surprising.  Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and also plays a role in the synthesis of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and prevents their wear and tear.   Studies have shown that having higher levels retards the deterioration of arthritic knee and hip joints.

Clara also related this story about two chimps suffering from a “mysterious illness” who were cured by vitamin D from the sun. It’s from the book, “Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me about Who We Are,” by Roger Fouts.

Moja and Tatu were part of a small chimp colony that had always had access to the outdoors. But in 1980 they were moved to a strictly indoor facility. By 1991, both were seriously ill. Moja had become progressively crippled with arthritis, and Tatu had constant diarrhea and dramatic weight loss. Enriched diet and supplements made no difference to their condition.

In May of 1993, they were moved to a new location where they once again enjoyed a grassy outdoor play area in a sunny spot. For weeks, Moja and Tatu wanted to spend every waking minute outside; they had to be begged and cajoled to come in, even to eat. Their pale skin turned bright red, but they didn’t seem to mind.

In three months, they were not only tanned, but completely transformed. Moja was now swinging easily and gracefully across the walls and ceiling of the outdoor area. Tatu, who had previously had great difficulty even crawling, was running, climbing and initiating tickle and chase games. Her diarrhea stopped and she regained her lost weight.

An interesting note is that both chimps had previously received vitamin D along with their other supplements, but the amounts had apparently been too low to make a difference.  The total body exposure to sunlight they received spending their days outdoors could easily have produced more than 10,000 IU a day.

If you’re not getting the results from vitamin D that you expected, you may need to take more. Get your levels tested with the 25(OH)D blood test, and if your results aren’t in the high-normal range, try taking more. And of course now that it’s summer, be sure to get your free vitamin D from the sun!

  • Felix C. More sunny news from back home. The Felix Letter. 2000, Numbers 110&111:
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