Why Vitamin D Is Important for Your Health

Why Vitamin D Is Important for Your Health
Photo Credit: m-imagephotography / iStockPhoto.com
Advertisement

What This Sunshine Vitamin Can Do for You

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, serves many purposes. It is a nutrient you need for its own actions, as well as its impact on other nutrients.

Vitamin D is essential for the proper function of many systems throughout your body.

Calcium and phosphorus cannot be utilized without adequate amounts of the vitamin being present. Vitamin D is also needed for nerve, dental and bone health. Let’s take a look at the many benefits vitamin D provides you and your loved ones.d

Your Body Produces the Active Form of Vitamin D

While many people worldwide obtain vitamin D simply by being outdoors on a regular basis, studies indicate that many people fail to get adequate amounts of this fat-soluble nutrient.

Hispanic and black populations have high incidences of inadequate vitamin D — darker skin doesn’t convert the precursor of vitamin D to an active form as efficiently as lighter skin. In addition, people in cool and cold climates fail to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sun during winter months.

A minimum of 15 minutes of sun exposure to unprotected forearms and the face is needed to obtain adequate amounts of vitamin D every day.

The use of sunscreen interferes with ultraviolet being absorbed and aiding the creation of vitamin D. However, due to the risk of skin cancer development, most health experts recommend sunscreen except when being outdoors for very short periods of time.

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, ultraviolet rays convert the precursors of vitamin D into pre-vitamin D3. The precursor is a healthy cholesterol compound your body absorbs and converts into the active, potent form of vitamin D your body needs.

You may ingest supplemental vitamin D2 if you do not do not get enough exposure to sunshine.

It used to be believed that vitamin D from food was not as effective as vitamin D3 from sunlight, however that is no longer considered true. A synthetic vitamin D5 is available, however, I recommend sticking with natural forms.

Regardless of whether vitamin D comes from supplements or sunlight, your body must convert it to the active, usable form. Your liver and kidneys both play roles in this process, so individuals who have impaired kidney or liver health are at risk for vitamin D deficiency-related ills.

Vitamin D Needs Throughout the Lifespan

Adequate amounts of vitamin D are necessary for healthy development of babies. Unborn babies need vitamin D to ensure strong bone and teeth development, but the vitamin is still needed for bone growth and development throughout the lifespan.

Maximum bone density occurs during the third decade of life; however, bone cells break down and need replacement throughout the lifespan. Growing healthy bones from the moment of conception protects against bone deformities and crippling illnesses throughout life.

Most people know calcium is needed to create and maintain bone strength, but if inadequate vitamin D levels are present, all the calcium in the world won’t result in bone strength.

Calcium and phosphorus account for bone’s density and strength. Vitamin D enables the bloodstream to deposit these components of bone so a healthy boney matrix forms.

Not Just for Healthy Bones

Vitamin D enhances strength of muscles and connective tissues (including cartilage, tendons and ligaments), and increases the amount of calcium in the bloodstream. It does this by increasing the gastrointestinal tract’s ability to absorb calcium and other nutrients from food.

Vitamin D helps regulate the heartbeat and is needed to enable the blood to clot properly. It enhances immune system wellness.

Adequate levels of vitamin D are necessary for the thyroid gland to function well. The vitamin protects against development of types 1 and 2 diabetes.

Research is being conducted to explore the relationships between vitamin D and dementia, as low levels of vitamin D have been linked to vascular and Alzheimer’s dementias. It may be that vitamin D protects the blood vessels within the brain from injury and facilitates the transmission of messages within the nerves.

Stroke risks diminish if adequate levels of vitamin D are found within the bloodstream.

Vitamin D Deficiencies Result in Lifelong Health Challenges

Children who do not obtain adequate vitamin D may develop a deficiency disease called rickets. Their bones fail to grow normally, and become soft and bendable.

Bowing of the legs may occur when the child is old enough to walk because the bones are too weak to support the child’s weight. The abdomens of the children may stick out due to muscle weakness.
Infants are particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. The majority of infants in developed nations do not obtain enough vitamin D.

Osteomalacia may develop in young adults. It is most common among women in developing countries who are unable to obtain adequate calcium and vitamin D.

With repeated pregnancies and long episodes of breastfeeding, their bones weaken. Symptoms are the same as those found in children who suffer from rickets. Individuals who have health problems, such as liver or kidney disease, may develop osteomalacia too.

Osteoporosis is rampant, particularly in small-boned post-menopausal women; however it affects men as well. Advancing age increases the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

Fractures, pain, immobility and diseases related to immobility may arise. Studies indicate that half of women who are hospitalized for fractures due to osteoporosis have a vitamin D deficiency.

A lack of vitamin D results in an increased likelihood of osteoarthritis occurring. This may cause serious debility, pain and a lack of independence, particularly in later years.

Elders are at risk for vitamin D deficiency as the body becomes less adept at manufacturing and converting vitamin D to its most potent form. Many aging individuals do not spend much time outside in sunlight, nor do they eat well. This further increases the likelihood of vitamin D deficiency developing.

Healthy Amounts of Vitamin D

Infants up to the age of 12 months should obtain 400 IU of vitamin D from food or supplements. People between the age of one and 70 generally require 600 IU each day. Adults aged 71 and older need 800 IU of each day.

Fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and bluefish, are excellent natural sources of vitamin D. Liver, mushrooms, cheese and egg yolks contain vitamin D, too.

Milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in the body. Over-dosage is possible, so do not exceed recommended requirements. It is unlikely that vitamin D toxicity could result from sun exposure or through dietary sources.