What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a vitamin and a hormone that our body can make when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Due to a host of factors, however, we often don’t get enough vitamin D and supplementation may be required to correct a state of deficiency and the conditions associated with such a state.
It is perhaps best known that Vitamin D helps build strong, healthy bones by improving calcium absorption from the food we eat. But it has a much bigger role to play in our well-being than was once thought.
Are you vitamin D deficient?
A vitamin D deficiency is linked to a number of diseases and conditions that could be preventable were the levels of the vitamin within a normal range.
Certain groups of people are more susceptible to having a vitamin D deficiency and they should have blood tests to check their levels and assess whether supplementation is needed.
Children tend to spend less time outdoors and are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D than children 40 years ago. The elderly are also at risk due to lower absorption rates, poor dietary intake and because the body produces less as we age. Overweight individuals are also found to commonly have lower than normal levels making them more prone to deficiency as it seems the vitamin D they do produce often gets stored in the fat cells. Naturally dark-skinned individuals also tend to have lower than normal levels because the melanin pigment in their skin blocks the sun’s rays from reaching the areas where vitamin D is made.
Increased body acidity due to a diet high in protein, fizzy drinks and sugar can cause calcium to be drawn out of the bones and tissues in an attempt to neutralize the acidity. This in turn, would increase your requirements and if not corrected could result in a calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
Some common signs of deficiency include poor bone health, muscle fatigue, recurrent respiratory infections, high blood pressure and severe gum disease.
For what conditions is vitamin D useful?
Vitamin D can boost mood and help in certain cases of depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition characterized by low mood and is common in the winter months when there is little sunshine. Supplementing with vitamin D during these months can help alleviate SAD.
It may also be important in the prevention and treatment of auto-immune diseases in which the body’s immune system begins to attack itself. It was found that vitamin D has a regulatory effect on the part of the immune system responsible for the immune dysfunction and also reduces the inflammatory reaction often associated with auto-immune conditions.
Exciting research is showing how it can prevent and improve the health of those with diabetes. If levels of the vitamin are ideal, it is supposed that it may improve glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity as well as the functioning of the pancreas and may have a protective effect in reducing the risk of developing type 1 diabetes (an auto-immune condition). In pre-diabetic patients vitamin D was found to reduce the rate of progression to full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Because vitamin D improves the absorption of calcium it supports bone health and is helpful in bone disease such as osteoporosis, osteomalacia as well as rickets and it improves dental health by encouraging mineralization of the teeth, especially in children. It also is needed by the body for proper muscle contraction and supplementing can increase muscle strength and recovery.
Vitamin D has been found to regulate the differentiation and growth rate of the skin cells. Ideal for healthy skin and beneficial in cases of psoriasis where the skin cells grow too quickly and cause silvery plaques on the skin.
There is also a great deal of research investigating how it might be able to prevent and treat certain forms of cancer, specifically colorectal, breast and prostate cancer.
More research is underway to explore the role of vitamin D in heart disease and conditions like epilepsy, autism, and Parkinson’s disease.
Vitamin D Where Art Thou?
The best way to ensure adequate levels is to spend 10-15 minutes in the sun, during peak times (11am-3pm) every day. Try to expose as much of your skin as possible but be careful not to overdo it – the UV rays of the sun can be damaging.
It is not wise to rely on dietary intake for healthy levels. Very few foods have amounts of vitamin D in a form that is difficult for your body to use. Mushrooms (that were exposed to UV light while growing), oily fish, fortified cereals and egg yolks contain some vitamin D.
When supplementing with vitamin is best to use a good quality brand in the D3 form (for better absorption) and that provides between 400 – 1000iu’s per tablet. Daily requirements vary with your age and state of health. It is also recommended to get a blood test to confirm the need for supplementation and the dose required. Taking vitamin K along with D3 is crucial. Here is a high-quality supplement that contains both vitamins.