The body makes vitamin D when the skin is directly exposed to the sun. That is why it is often called the “sunshine” vitamin. Most people get some of their vitamin D through sun exposure.
Everyone can agree sunlight is good for a lot of things; heating and lighting the planet, growing crops, making the beach a fun place to be and, well, just sustaining life on earth as we know it. No big deal, right? But sunlight is also a source of vitamin D, an essential nutrient found in only a few foods. A growing body of evidence suggests that a daily dose of vitamin D is vital for overall health and wellbeing.
Vitamin D Deficiency
In children, a side effect of vitamin D deficiency is rickets, a disease that softens and distorts bones and results in bowlegs. Osteomalacia, also called bone pain, is another side effect. A long-term consequence of low vitamin D levels is osteoporosis, which is generally more common in older adults. The National Institute of Health reports that more than 40 million Americans are at risk for this disease.
A vitamin D deficiency in adults results in osteoporosis, osteomalacia, muscle weakness, and increased risk of falls. Poor vitamin D intake and low blood levels of vitamin D metabolites are associated with increased incidence of autoimmune diseases Lower levels of vitamin D, adjusted for body mass index, are also associated with increased risk of hypertension, myocardial infarction, and death as a result of cardiovascular disease.
The Benefits of Vitamin D
One of the most important roles that vitamin D plays in the body is the absorption of calcium, a key in maintaining healthy, strong bones. A recent study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, reports that at least half of patients with stress fractures had insufficient levels of vitamin D in their systems. The benefits of vitamin D, however, don’t just stop at sturdy bones. The supplement also promotes some of the following:
Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
- Mood regulation – how it works in the brain isn’t totally understood, but vitamin D reacts to receptors in the brain located in areas which are linked to the development of depression. Some researchers believe vitamin D increases the amount of chemicals, like serotonin, that affect levels of depression.
- Decrease blood pressure – a study at Boston University regularly dosed people with hypertension to UVA and UVB rays for three months. Their vitamin D levels increased by more than 100 percent and their blood pressure normalized.
- Protection from cardiovascular disease and some cancers – dozens of studies have linked low levels of vitamin D to colorectal and other cancers, as well as higher risk of heart failure, sudden cardiac death cardiovascular disease.
- Fight against type 2 diabetes – most everyone associates obesity with type 2 diabetes, and for good reason. However, the latest research has shown that a vitamin D deficiency might be an even more significant factor regardless of a person’s weight.
According to Medline Plus, people between the age of 4 – 70 years old, need a minimum of 600 mgs per day. Adults over the age of 70 need 800 mg per day.
Getting enough of vitamin D can be a challenge for some people. Exposure to the midday sun three to four times a week for several minutes is the most effective way to get a regular dose of the vitamin. But this method varies for people with darker skin or for those who live in areas with little sunlight. In order to avoid a vitamin D deficiency, most healthcare professionals prescribe a combination of taking supplements, getting in the sun and eating foods that naturally contain or are fortified with the nutrient.
Food sources rich in vitamin D can include some of the following:
- Fatty fishes, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Foods with vitamin D added, like some dairy products, orange juices and cereals. Check the labels for amounts of vitamin D
Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3
Vitamin D consists of 2 bioequivalent forms. Vitamin D2 (D2), also known as ergocalciferol, is obtained from dietary vegetable sources and oral supplements. Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is obtained primarily from skin exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, ingestion of food sources such as oily fish and variably fortified foods (milk, juices, margarines, yogurts, cereals, and soy), and oral supplements.
From mood improvement to strong bones to disease prevention, vitamin D might soon be considered a super-powered supplement. Make sure to get your daily dose of vitamin “D-fense.”