Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin,” because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight exposure. It’s fat-soluble, in a family of compounds that includes “vitamins” D-1, D-2, and D-3.
Vitamins are nutrients that the body cannot create, so a person must consume them in the diet. However, the body can produce vitamin D. Therefore, despite its name, Vitamin D is not a vitamin, but a prohormone, or a precursor of a hormone.
Since our body produces it, do we really need to supplement? The answer is yes. Vitamin D is listed as one of the highest in deficiencies, especially in the colder months when sun exposure is limited. The better question would be, why do we need Vitamin D?
Look no further—the answers are below.
- It helps build strong bones
Vitamin D plays a significant role in the regulation of calcium and maintenance of phosphorus levels in the blood. These factors are vital for maintaining healthy bones.
Our bodies need vitamin D to extract calcium properly from the food we eat, but a vitamin D deficiency means we cannot absorb enough calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen.
Over time, this can contribute to osteomalacia – a condition where the bones soften, or become weak and are more likely to fracture. But, by upping your vitamin D levels, you can help re-mineralize bone structures, making them stronger.
It could also help prevent osteoporosis, a condition affecting over 53 million people. While osteomalacia is caused by poor bone structures being built, osteoporosis is caused by bone breaking down. Some studies have found that vitamin D can actually slow down bone loss, warding off osteoporosis and keeping you stronger for longer.
- It can help keep your muscles strong
Muscle weakness may be another side effect of low vitamin D levels, especially in the elderly.
Numerous studies have found that taking supplements of this vitamin significantly improves muscle performance, in turn decreasing the number of injuries suffered from falls. In one particular trial, residents in a nursing home who received vitamin D and calcium supplements suffered 72% fewer falls than those taking a placebo.
- It can protect against gum disease
Researchers recently discovered that low vitamin D levels are linked to periodontitis, or gum disease. Their study found those with chronic gum disease also had very low levels of vitamin D in the blood. Further, a study in Norway also found a link between tooth loss and exposure to sunlight — only 11 % of those living in the south of the country lost teeth, compared to 65% in the north.
- It may help improve heart health
A recent study – and the largest ever done on the subject – concluded that a vitamin D deficiency is linked to heart disease.
Over 70% of nearly 1500 patients undergoing investigation for narrowing arteries had a vitamin D deficiency, and there was a 32% higher occurrence of coronary artery disease in those patients with the lowest vitamin D levels.
The results were so clear, the team is now investigating the effects of taking vitamin D on boosting heart health.
5. Vitamin D reduces depression
Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms.
How do I know if I’m deficient?
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include:
- regular sickness or infection
- bone and back pain
- low mood
- hair loss
- muscle pain
If Vitamin D deficiency continues for long periods, it may result in complications, such as:
- cardiovascular conditions
- autoimmune problems
- neurological diseases
- pregnancy complications
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you might be Vitamin D deficient. Schedule a visit with your primary care doctor to discuss your symptoms and options before more severe conditions occur.
Although the body can create vitamin D, a deficiency can occur for many reasons. Here are some:
Geographical location: People who live in northern latitudes or areas of high pollution, work night shifts, or are homebound should aim to consume vitamin D from food sources whenever possible.
Skin type: Darker skin, for example, reduces the body’s ability to absorb the Ultraviolet radiation B (UVB) rays from the sun. Absorbing sunlight is essential for the skin to produce vitamin D.
Sunscreen: A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 can reduce the body’s ability to synthesize the vitamin by 95% or more. Covering the skin with clothing can inhibit vitamin D production also.
Breastfeeding: Infants who exclusively breastfeed need a vitamin D supplement, especially if they have dark skin or have minimal sun exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all breastfed infants receive 400 international units (IU) per day of oral vitamin D.
How much Vitamin D should I take?
People can measure Vitamin D intake in micrograms (mcg) or international units (IU). One microgram of Vitamin D is equal to 40 IU.
The recommended daily intakes of vitamin D are as follows:
- Infants 0–12 months: 400 IU (10 mcg).
- Children 1–18 years: 600 IU (15 mcg).
- Adults up to 70 years: 600 IU (15 mcg).
- Adults over 70 years: 800 IU (20 mcg).
- Pregnant or lactating women: 600 IU (15 mcg).
Sensible sun exposure on bare skin for 5–10 minutes, 2–3 times per week, allows most people to produce sufficient vitamin D. However, Vitamin D breaks down quite quickly, especially in winter, so to maintain your levels and reap the benefits of Vitamin D, supplementation is a must!