Vitamin D – the “Sunshine” Vitamin
I decided to write about the vitamins because most people around me – including myself – tend to underestimate their role in the daily diet.
We think that living a healthy lifestyle is enough, and we don’t need to worry. And yes – a healthy lifestyle is the key – but it is just as important to test our blood from time to time to ensure that our vitamin levels are meeting the recommended standards.
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine” vitamin, is today’s subject. Winter has come and we’re more prone to deficiency than in any other season. Let’s talk about it then!
What’s Vitamin D?
Vitamin D – even though we call it a vitamin – it is technically a pro-hormone.
What is the difference? Vitamins are nutrients which our body itself cannot produce – therefore we have to provide them to our organism from external sources. On the other hand, vitamin D can be synthesized by our body from sunlight exposure.
In accordance with general consensus moderate outdoor (glass blocks UV B rays) sun exposure on bare skin for 10-15 minutes, 2-4 times a week is enough for most people to produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D. However, we can’t really store any backup of it in our body and levels run low fast – especially in the winter – so supplies must be delivered regularly.
D like deficiency – how it can impact your health
Deficiency of vitamin D can cause serious problems. We have vitamin D receptors in our whole body, immune cells included. Seasonal cold and flu are way too familiar? Lack of vitamin D is one of the reasons!
Study definitely shows that vitamin D is crucial when it comes to calcium absorption. Basically it’s one of the most important components of strong bones and makes them less prone to fractures. And it’s not only because it helps form strong bones, but it also improves muscles contractions what- on the other hand – fastens their reaction and makes our muscular layer stronger.
1,25(OH)2D is the byproduct of vitamin D’s breakdown – it enters muscle cells and stimulates their nuclei. Muscle contraction is the term which literally means muscle work. Vitamin D metabolite improves muscle cells’ contraction. Long story short – accurate dose of Vitamin D makes muscles stronger.
Vitamin D is known for its multiple anti-inflammatory capabilities – it’s keeping our lungs in great health!
Research shows that the lower amount of vitamin D is stored in our body, the higher our blood pressure is. As we all know, high blood pressure is very dangerous and can cause real damage, for instance – a heart attack.
We are all solar batteries. As in every battery – sooner or later we all need to recharge. It’s not a secret that low mood is often linked to the lack of sun. I’m sure it happened to you too – am I right?
Scientific data clearly shows the level of vitamin D in our body determines our mood. There’s been research done which even shows that vitamin D’s positive effects on mood were comparable to the effects of anti-depressants!
Deficiency of vitamin D makes us feel constantly hungry – no matter how much food we’ve loaded. Reason? Low levels of vitamin D reduce effectiveness of leptin – the appetite hormone which tells us when we’re full! If you feel that you ate too much, but your body still craves for more, maybe it’s time to check if your level of vitamin D is not too low.
Study shows an association between vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment in the elderly. Vitamin D plays neuro-protective role. It helps to get rid of beta-amyloid which is crucially involved in Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, some study shows the lack of vitamin D may cause autism, sclerosis and hypertension.
Vitamin D plays a major role in intercommunication between cells and their growth. Some research show that hormonally active form of vitamin D may reduce cancer growth.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
Signs which can alert you that you may be deficient in Vitamin D
- Increased vulnerability to sickness and infections.
- Chronic Fatigue.
- Bone and back pain.
- Propensity for depression.
- Slower wound healing.
- Hair loss.
- Muscle pain.
Symptoms are not always evident, which is why it’s always recommended to preventively check our blood from time to time.
Groups at Risk of vitamin D deficiency
Getting the right amount of vitamin D just from natural sources may be difficult, if not impossible in some cases. Below I listed groups who are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency, and which should consider extra vitamin D intake from dietary supplements.
*Please note the list is pretty general, and may vary in different instances.
Accurate Vitamin D level can’t be met by mother’s milk alone. Vitamin D contents in human milk relates to the mother’s status of vitamin D. Market is rich in supplies for infants. It’s also highly recommended for nursing women to take Vitamin D supplements. It’s always safe to consult with a pediatrist.
Older adults are more prone to lack of vitamin D, because with age – ability to synthesize vitamin D by skin is drastically reduced.
People with limited sun exposure
Additional intake of vitamin D is suggested for people who are barely exposed to sun rays. These are individuals who cover their bodies for religious reasons, people who spend most of the time indoor, and those who live at geographical locations with limited sunlight.
People with dark skin
People with dark skin have higher levels of the pigment melanin which reduces their ability to synthesize right amount of vitamin D from sunlight.
Study shows that higher body mass is correlated to lower amount of vitamin D. People who are obese may need to increase their intake to meet daily requirements.
Recommended estimated intake
Vitamin D intake can be measured in two ways: in micrograms (mcg) and International Units (IU). One microgram of vitamin D is equal to 40 IU of vitamin D. According to U.S. Institutes of Medicine from 2010, estimated daily intake of vitamin D is set at:
- Infants 0-12 months – 400 IU (10 mcg).
- Children 1-18 years – 600 IU (15 mcg).
- Adults to age 70 – 600 IU (15 mcg).
- Adults over 70 – 800 IU (20 mcg).
- Pregnant or lactating women – 600 IU (15 mcg).
Sources of Vitamin D
Even though there’s only a few of them, there are foods with natural content of vitamin D. Here are the most common ones:
- Fatty fish – tuna, mackerel, salmon
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods
- As you can see, the list above includes mostly animal products, although we still can buy vitamin D fortified foods – always read the label. The most common are:
- Dairy products
- Orange juice
- Soy milk
Sun exposure could remain the best vitamin D source, but the risk of skin cancer developed by the sun UV B rays is too high to present it as an optimal solution. As sunscreen layer used and geographical location influence the amount of sun absorption of the skin – it is difficult to present the optimal exposure time A general indication is 10-20 minutes few times a week, between 12 -3 p.m. (not always transferable to all realities and all factors should be taken into consideration).
Market is full of vitamin D supplements. Before you choose one, it’s worth to remember that there’s two main types of vitamin D – D2 and D3.
Cholecalciferol – D3 – is already synthesized in human body form of vitamin D which makes it a better choice than ergocalciferol – D2.
Vitamin D is crucial for our health, however it can be overdone.
The most dangerous consequence of vitamin D toxicity is hypercalcemia – calcium buildup in the blood. It occurs in bones, tissues and organs. Symptoms of Vitamin D overdose are: nausea, vomiting, weakness and failure of kidney.
In the case of hypervitaminosis D, it’s required to avoid sun exposure and limit vitamin D intake.
Vitamin D toxicity happens very rare, and is usually the result of overdose of dietary supplements.
Sunshine vitamin – this term sounds frivolous and light, but the truth is that we really should care about preventing ourselves from Vitamin D deficiency. Meeting required doses will not only protect our entire system, but will improve and boost our general well-being.
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