Vitamin D is essential for our muscles, nerve fibers, and bones. In reality, this fat-soluble vitamin is actually a hormone. It is naturally present in our bodies and certain foods. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin D health benefits vary with each stage of life. In addition, NIH warns that too much of the vitamin could damage blood vessels, kidneys, and the heart.
On the other hand, in recent years, scientists have found that vitamin D deficiency adversely affects our immune systems — making people more susceptible to infections. Vitamin D deficient diets may cause rickets in children. Rickets is a disease where bone tissue fails to mineralize — resulting in soft bones and skeletal deformities.
In adults, deficiencies can lead to osteomalacia — resulting in weak bones. Classic symptoms of bone pain and muscle weakness can indicate insufficient vitamin D levels.
Ways Vitamin D Improves Your Health
The following are ways vitamin D helps to improve your health:
- Weight Loss — According to a number of studies, obese people more often have low blood levels of vitamin D. Body fat traps the hormone, which makes it less available to the body. Research suggests that losing weight may become easier for overweight people with low levels of vitamin D if they increase the amount of this vitamin in their diet.
- Bone Health — Vitamin D is essential for strong bone health — from infancy to old age. Vitamin D helps children build strong bones. It also helps in preventing rickets in children. The vitamin also helps older adults prevent brittle bones and fractures.
- Depression — One study showed that larger doses of vitamin D helped reduce symptoms of mild depression. This hormone is also noted for helping brain functioning and development.
- Reduce the Risk of Falling — In February 2004, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland published the results of their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The team of researchers showed that elderly women that took a vitamin D supplement — plus calcium — for three months, reduced their risk of falling by 49 percent compared with consuming calcium alone. Women who had repeatedly fallen in the past appeared to get the most benefit from vitamin D.
- Multiple Sclerosis — A study performed by the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, and Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts concluded that high circulating levels of vitamin D are associated with a lower risk of multiple sclerosis. The researchers published their study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, on December 20, 2006. In addition, a 2004 study in Neurology showed that women who received doses of vitamin D were 40 percent less likely to develop multiple sclerosis, compared with those not taking the over-the-counter supplements. These women took at least 400 international units of the vitamin usually found in daily multivitamin supplements, according to a report by WebMD.
- Precancerous Colon Polyps — In December 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study of more than 3,000 veterans between the ages of 50 to 75, at thirteen Veterans Affairs medical centers. The study results showed that veterans who consumed more than 645 IU of vitamin D a day — along with more than 4 grams of cereal fiber per day — had a 40 percent reduction in their risk of developing precancerous colon polyps.
- High Blood Pressure — Boston University performed a study and found that after people with high blood pressure were exposed to UVA and UVB rays for three months, their vitamin D levels increased more than 100 percent. However, more impressively, high blood pressure reduced and became normalized in the research subjects. Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine, Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., M.D., noted, “We’ve followed them now for nine months, and their hypertension continues to be in remission.” An assumption about how vitamin D reduces blood pressure is that it decreases the production of a hormone called renin, which scientists believe plays a role in hypertension.
- Immune System — Our bodies need vitamin D to function properly. The “sunshine vitamin” is not really a vitamin – it is a hormone. It is one of the most potent hormones in the human body. It regulates more bodily functions and genes than any other hormone yet discovered. Vitamin D is produced as a pro-hormone in your skin after sunlight exposure, and is then converted to the potent hormone form. A press release from an Oregon State University study concluded that, “one key part of the immune system, the ability of vitamin D to regulate anti-bactericidal proteins, is so important that is has been conserved through almost 60 million years of evolution and is shared only by primates, including humans – but no other known animal species.”
- Flu or Influenza — Vitamin D shows higher effectiveness against disease than certain vaccines. A Japanese study showed that schoolchildren taking vitamin D3 supplements were 58 percent less likely to catch influenza A — a higher success than any flu vaccine can claim. Moreover, this essential hormone doesn’t come with an onslaught of potentially devastating side effects.
- Cancer — An ever-increasing amount of evidence shows that vitamin D plays an essential role in preventing diseases and maintaining optimal health. There are close to 30,000 genes in the human body — vitamin D affects practically 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout the body. One large-scale study claims optimal levels can reduce the risk of cancer by as much as 60 percent. Keeping optimized levels can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, skin, and lung cancers.
Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally. However, there are varieties of foods fortified with the “sunshine vitamin.”
For example, shrimp, sardines, tuna, and salmon are some of the best sources. Egg yolks, cheese, mushrooms, and beef liver provide small amounts. Additionally, orange juice, milk, yogurt, and cereal are fortified with the vitamin.
Ten to 15 minutes of mid-day, direct sun exposure, three times a week, also helps your body produce this essential vitamin.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences advises the following intake recommendations:
- Children and teens — 600 IU or 15 mcg/day
- Adults up to age 70 — 600 IU or 15 mcg/day
- Adults 70+ — 800 IU or 20 mcg/day
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women — 600 IU or 15 mcg/day
The National Institutes of Health advises using an eclectic approach in getting the recommended amount of vitamin D – that is, sunlight, certain foods, and supplements.
It’s always best to consult a doctor to make sure you’re getting the right amount of vitamin D for your body.