Having enough vitamin D is important for a number of reasons, including maintaining healthy bones and teeth, and it may also protect against a number of diseases such as cancer, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D plays several roles in the body, helping to:
– Maintain healthy bones and teeth
– Support the health of the immune system, brain and nervous system
– Regulate blood sugar levels
– Maintain lung and cardiovascular function
– Influence genes involved in cancer development
So what is vitamin D?
Despite the name, vitamin D is technically a prohormone, not a vitamin. Vitamins are nutrients that cannot be created by the body and therefore must be taken with food. However, vitamin D can be synthesized by our bodies when sunlight hits our skin. It is estimated that a person needs 5-10 minutes of sun exposure 2-3 times a week, which will help the body produce vitamin D. But it will not be possible to stock up on them for the future: vitamin D is quickly eliminated from the body, and its reserves must be constantly replenished. Recent studies have shown that a significant portion of the world’s population is deficient in vitamin D.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of vitamin D.
1. Healthy bones
Vitamin D plays an essential role in regulating calcium and maintaining blood phosphorus levels, two factors that are extremely important for maintaining healthy bones. The human body needs vitamin D to absorb and restore calcium in the intestines, which is otherwise excreted through the kidneys.
Deficiency of this vitamin manifests itself in adults as osteomalacia (softening of the bones) or osteoporosis. Osteomalacia leads to poor bone density and muscle weakness. Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease among postmenopausal women and older men.
2. Reducing the risk of influenza
Studies have shown that children who were given 1200 units of vitamin D per day for 4 months in winter had a more than 40% reduced risk of contracting the flu virus.
3. Reducing the risk of developing diabetes
Studies have also shown an inverse relationship between the concentration of vitamin D in the body and the risk of diabetes. In people with diabetes, insufficient amounts of vitamin D in the body can adversely affect insulin secretion and glucose tolerance. In one study, infants who received 2000 units of the vitamin per day had an 88% reduced risk of developing diabetes before the age of 32.
4. Healthy children
Low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk and severity of atopic childhood illnesses and allergic diseases, including asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema. Vitamin D may enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of glucocorticoids, making it extremely useful as maintenance therapy for people with steroid-resistant asthma.
5. Healthy pregnancy
Pregnant women with vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk of developing preeclampsia and needing a caesarean section. Low concentrations of the vitamin are also associated with gestational diabetes and bacterial vaginosis in pregnant women. It is also important to note that too high vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of developing food allergies during the first two years of life.
6. Cancer prevention
Vitamin D is extremely important for regulating cell growth and for communication between cells. Some studies have shown that calcitriol (the hormonally active form of vitamin D) can reduce cancer progression by slowing the growth and development of new blood vessels in cancer tissue, increasing cancer cell death, and reducing cell metastasis. Vitamin D affects over 200 human genes that can be disrupted if you don’t have enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and swine flu.
Recommended Intake of Vitamin D
Vitamin D intake can be measured in two ways: in micrograms (mcg) and in international units (IU). One microgram of a vitamin is equal to 40 IU.
The recommended doses of vitamin D were updated by the US Institute in 2010 and are currently as follows:
Infants 0-12 months: 400 IU (10 mcg) Children 1-18 years: 600 IU (15 mcg) Adults under 70: 600 IU (15 mcg) Adults over 70: 800 IU (20 mcg) Pregnant or breastfeeding women : 600 IU (15 mcg)
Vitamin D deficiency
The darkest skin color and the use of sunscreen reduce the body’s ability to absorb the ultraviolet rays from the sun needed to produce vitamin D. For example, sunscreen with SPF 30 reduces the body’s ability to synthesize the vitamin by 95%. To start producing vitamin D, the skin must be exposed to direct sunlight and not covered by clothing.
People who live in northern latitudes or areas with high levels of pollution, who work at night, or who are indoors all day long, should supplement their intake of vitamin D whenever possible, especially through food. You can take vitamin D supplements, but it’s best to get all your vitamins and minerals through natural sources.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms:
– Frequent illnesses – Pain in the bones and back – Depression – Slow healing of wounds – Hair loss – Pain in the muscles
If vitamin D deficiency continues for long periods of time, it can lead to the following problems:
– Obesity – Diabetes – Hypertension – Depression – Fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal pain) – Chronic fatigue syndrome – Osteoporosis – Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease
Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to the development of certain types of cancer, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
Plant Sources of Vitamin D
The most common source of vitamin D is the sun. However, most of the vitamin is found in animal products such as fish oil and oily fish. In addition to animal foods, vitamin D can be obtained from some vegetarian foods:
– Maitake mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, shiitake, oyster mushrooms, portobello
– Mashed potatoes with butter and milk
Too much vitamin D
The upper limit recommended for vitamin D is 4000 IU per day. However, the National Institutes of Health has suggested that vitamin D toxicity is unlikely with daily intakes of up to 10000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Too much vitamin D (hypervitaminosis D) can lead to excessive calcification of the bones and hardening of the blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, and heart. The most common symptoms of hypervitaminosis D are headache and nausea, but it can also include loss of appetite, dry mouth, metallic taste, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.
It’s best to choose natural sources of vitamin D. But if you’re choosing a supplement, carefully research the brand for animal products (if you’re a vegan or vegetarian), synthetics, chemicals, and product reviews.