Vitamin D: What You Need To Know About Vitamin D?

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D has been called the “sunshine” vitamin because the main source of this vitamin is the sun. It is actually a group of prohormones that assist the body to effectively absorb phosphate/phosphorous and calcium. If you live in colder areas that are further from the equator, it is highly likely that your body has lower levels of vitamin D than you need. It is estimated that there are about 1 billion people in the world who have insufficient vitamin D levels in their blood, which could potentially lead to deficiencies.

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How Does it Work?

The main function of vitamin D in the body is to make it possible for the intestines to absorb calcium and phosphate. Without vitamin D, the body would be deficient of these nutrients even if you were consuming the recommended daily dosage. Vitamin D is not usable as soon as it enters the body (through food and supplements) or is made by the body (through sun exposure). Instead, it has to undergo two processes – called hydroxylation reactions – in order for it to be activated and usable in the body. Once it has been converted into a usable, active form in the body, vitamin D is known as calcitriol.

New Vitamin D Research Results

There have been a large number of research studies in the last few years that have investigated the link between vitamin D and a number of ailments. The main purpose of these research studies was to show that vitamin D is a critical mineral in the body and that it is used by the body to prevent a large number of chronic and acute conditions. Some of the conditions investigated by these research studies are discussed in the next few paragraphs.

Vitamin D and Bone and Muscle Strength

Vitamin D is critical for bone and muscle strength. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to a higher risk for bone fractures later in life. The research studies were aimed at fracture prevention, and discovered that people who are taking a high enough dose of vitamin D supplements (i.e. approximately 800 IU every day) had a 20% reduction* in non-spine and hip fractures. Falls are a common problem for older people, and vitamin D may increase* muscle strength, which in turn prevents older people from falling. Falls account for a high percentage of fractures, disability and even death in elderly people. Vitamin D can also help by preventing rickets, a problem linked to weak bones. A study with surprising results found that taking one large dosage (500,000 IU) once a year could actually have the opposite effect – higher fall and fracture risk. This means the vitamin needs to be taken in small doses on a regular basis because the body cannot store vitamins for long periods of time.

Vitamin D and Heart Disease

Vitamin D is important in strengthening the muscles. Because the heart is a muscle, several research studies have found that vitamin D is an important nutrient in maintaining heart health. Lower levels of vitamin D lead to a 50% higher risk of heart attacks. This holds true for other types of heart conditions as well, including stroke, heart failure and cardiovascular disease. Although there is insufficient evidence to support this, a few research studies have shown that vitamin D protects the heart by lowering blood pressure and preventing damage to the arteries.

Vitamin D and Cancer

There seems to be a link between lower levels of vitamin D and cancer, particularly colon cancer and colorectal cancer. Researchers discovered that more people living in higher latitudes died from these cancers than those who were living closer to the equator. This has been linked to low vitamin D levels because the sun’s rays are weaker in higher latitudes than in areas that are closer to the equator. It has not been proven, however, that taking vitamin D supplements can help prevent these cancers.

Vitamin D and Immune Function

Vitamin D is important for the healthy function of the immune system. This vitamin works by activating innate immunity. This means that it lowers the risk of viral infections and flu. Its effect on the flu is one of the reasons why colds are more common in winter when there is less sunshine. Lower levels of vitamin D also place a person at greater risk of tuberculosis. Some research studies have shown that vitamin D may help to prevent autoimmune diseases. These are diseases like diabetes where the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s organs and tissues.

Vitamin D and Risk of Premature Death

Several research studies have found that vitamin D may decrease* mortality rates. These studies found that vitamin D was responsible for a 7% decrease* in mortality from a wide range of causes.

What are The Benefits of Vitamin D?

Vitamin D’s main function is to help the intestines absorb both calcium and phosphorous. Without this vitamin, the bones would become brittle and this could lead to osteoporosis later in life. Vitamin D is also important for regulating immune system functions. This vitamin is also believed to be a critical ingredient in the prevention of certain types of cancers and heart disease.

Health Risks from Excessive Vitamin D

Although health risks of high levels of vitamin D in the body have been reported, they are relatively rare. People who are at a higher risk for toxicity due to a high intake of vitamin D are (in most cases) those who suffer from other health problems like kidney or liver conditions. Furthermore, people who do not take vitamin D supplements do not have a problem of high levels of vitamin D in their bodies. This is because the body converts only as much of the vitamin D as it needs from sunshine exposure. Additionally, foods that are vitamin D fortified generally contain low levels of the vitamin – at least not enough to cause toxicity. If the body has higher levels of vitamin D than it needs, it can lead to nausea, vomiting, a poor appetite, kidney problems, frequent urination and a general feeling of weakness. Elsewhere in this report it was also shown that supplementing vitamin D once a year (500,000 UI) could lead to bone fractures and a higher risk of falling.

Role of Vitamin D in Menopausal Relief

Vitamin D can help women in menopause by improving* their bone mineral density and consequently preventing osteoporosis. Loss of bone mass is one of those silent menopause symptoms which is only noticeable once a person has a fracture. This vitamin can also help menopausal women by preventing cancer and keeping the heart healthy.

Does Vitamin D Interact with Medications?

Vitamin D does interact with a few medications, especially for people who are taking Vitamin D supplements. If you are not taking supplements, then the vitamin D that your body produces through sun exposure and the small amounts of the vitamin from fortified foods will not interact with any medications. Vitamin D from supplements can interact with aluminium in antacids by increasing* the amount of aluminium absorbed by the body. This may be particularly dangerous for people who suffer from kidney disease.

Final Verdict

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is critical to the sustenance of a number of bodily functions. Therefore, it is advisable that if you live in areas with enough sunlight, ensure that you get at least 15 minutes of exposure to the sun each day. Ensure you have an adequate intake of foods fortified with vitamin D if you live in colder areas with less sunlight.

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