The Serpent and Me
📷When the equinox marks the beginning of fall, the serpentine shadow of Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan winds its way to the feathered head at the base of the pyramid in the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, latitude 20.7 degrees Latitude North. My summer cycler tan has faded, and local farm produce has gone from tomatoes and cucumbers to kale and pumpkins because I live at 47.7 degrees Latitude North. I wonder if I’m eating right.
So, what does a Mayan legend, location, and nutrition have to do with each other? Let’s start with the legend.
Ancient Toltec legend has it that Quetzalcoatl (literally translated as feathered serpent), deity ruler of the wind, storm, and patron of arts came to earth as a man to rule people on earth teaching them to work gold, to grow maize, cacao, and cotton. Quetzalcoatl fled in shame on a raft of snakes but vowed to return. Quetzalcoatl to the Toltecs became Kulkulkan to the Mayans. The snake shadow appears at the pyramid in the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on both the spring and fall equinox when at all latitudes, we experience equal daylight and darkness.
Before and after each equinox day length varies depending on how far we are from the equator. At the equator the daylength stays pretty much 12 hours of daylight with 12 hours of dark. The farther afield you go the more of a difference there is. Between the fall and spring equinox and beyond 37 degrees latitude the sun’s energy is too diffused for our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D3 from the sun.
Adequate amounts of Vitamin D in your blood stream can help the body to produce and regulate its use of hormones and is used in many parts of your body including teeth, muscle contraction, digestion, kidney, brain, and liver function calcium absorption, nervous system, immune system and muscles. It reduces the risk of osteoporosis and helps new bones to grow straight and strong and broken bones to mend.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include rickets, brain fog, long lasting cold symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome, and seasonal depression. If you have a Vitamin D deficiency, your body can't properly absorb calcium and you could develop soft, thin, and brittle bones, which can result in bone and joint pain, as well as muscle weakness. D deficiency has been shown to be a precursor of immune disorders including Multiple Sclerosis(Ghareghani, Reiter, Zibara, & Farhadi, 2018). Symptoms are not always evident, and a relatively simple blood test can determine Vitamin D level. Then ask your doctor if it makes sense to take vitamin D3 supplements and what dose is best.
DIFFERENCES IN D ABSORPTION
Some things that make a difference in the ability to absorb Vitamin D include skin color, location, smoking, physical activity, adipose fat (belly fat), age, diet, pollution, and sunscreen use. After age 50 our skin doesn't produce Vitamin D as efficiently as when we were younger. Folks with digestive disorders such as Crohn's, Celiac typically can't process fat properly, an essential element for proper Vitamin D absorption. Excess fat in individuals who are Obese or Overweight binds to Vitamin D and prevents it from getting into the blood stream.
FORMS OF VITAMIN D
The two forms of Vitamin D are D3, cholecalciferol, and D2, ergocalciferol. Sunlight hitting bare skin results in D3 cholecalciferol. It is also available in supplements developed from sheep wool and in fish available as pill, capsule, and fortification of common US products such as some cereals, yogurt, orange juice and milk. The list of ingredients may specify Vitamin D2, D3, D, cholecalciferol, and/or ergocalciferol. The study published this year by Adrian Martineau et al (Martineau et al., 2019) concludes that although both D2 and D3 are converted into the prohormone 25(OH)D, D3 is most efficient. For best results choose labels which specifically state Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the body for long periods of time and can be consumed in two main dietary forms: D2 and D3. D2, or ergocalciferol, is found primarily in plants, mushrooms, and yeasts. Whereas, D3, or cholecalciferol, is found primarily in animal products, like fatty fish or egg yolks.
Get the majority of your nutrition from real food including a variety of healthy whole foods. Good food sources of vitamin D include cold-water fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. Vitamin D can also be purchased as a supplement and is usually included in multivitamin formulas. Be sure to carefully read all multivitamins, herbs and pharmaceutical information to ensure you are not consuming multiple doses of any ingredient. Clearly understand the label and be able to independently verify any claims made by the company before you use any supplements.
MORE ON SUPPLEMENTS:
Fat soluble Vitamins D is often presented as an omega-3 or avocado oil gel capsules. Keep these refrigerated, in the original dark container and use them by the expiration date. The oil in a capsule can go rancid like any oil, so open and smell the capsule from time to time. These should not be heated or used for cooking.
Regarding supplements and potential for harm, reactions can occur from use of Vitamin D3 supplements including a rash due to sheep allergy since Vitamin D3 labeled Cholecalciferol usually comes from sheep’s wool, unless it specifically says, “from fish oil”. To be sure contact the company who produces the supplement. Too much Vitamin D can cause health complications and unnecessary strain on your liver and kidney other organs.
Jennifer Sacheck, associate professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Tufts University suggests, “Food is the best source for valuable nutrients, but obtaining even just the RDA of vitamin D from food alone would take the equivalent of six eight-ounce glasses of fortified milk,” said Sacheck. “Improvements to diet and increased awareness are considerations for closing the vitamin D gap when the sun can’t do the job.”
Pip Taylor, author of The Athlete’s Fix, explains how the plethora of nutrients in whole foods covers our needs is complex in a way a basic supplement doesn’t do because there are interactions between vitamins and minerals that make them more or less effective.
Yes, there is a relationship between the legend of Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan, location, and nutrition. While I’m fortunate enough to have access to fresh and frozen food to get much of my nutrients, I’ll take a vitamin D3 supplement until the serpentine shadow arrives at the base of the pyramid next Spring.
 Anne Huotari & Karl-Heinz Herzig (Professor) (2008) Vitamin D and living in northern latitudes—an endemic risk area for vitamin D deficiency, International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 67:2-3, 164-178, DOI: 10.3402/ijch.v67i2-3.1825
 Patrick F. Leary, DO, MS; Ina Zamfirova, MS; Johnathan Au, MPH; Ward H. McCracken, DO Effect of Latitude on Vitamin D Levels The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, July 2017, Vol. 117, 433-439. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2017.089
 Ghareghani M, Reiter RJ, Zibara K and Farhadi N (2018) Latitude, Vitamin D, Melatonin, and Gut Microbiota Act in Concert to Initiate Multiple Sclerosis: A New Mechanistic Pathway. Front. Immunol. 9:2484. doi: 10.3389/ﬁmmu.2018.02484
 Martineau AR, Thummel KE, Wang Z, et al. Differential Effects of Oral Boluses of Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3 on Vitamin D Metabolism: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019;104(12):5831–5839. doi:10.1210/jc.2019-00207