Vitamin D is an extremely important nutrient required by the human body to fulfil numerous different functions. It is a fat soluble steroid hormone that is synthesised within the body when bare skin is exposed to the UV rays of the sun, and can also be obtained through certain foods. Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining bone health and the immune system. Let’s learn more about this vitamin and find out what it is truly capable of, here are 6 facts.
Vitamin D has been given the title the “sunshine vitamin” due to the fact that when the skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B rays of the sun, the body creates vitamin D out of cholesterol. Sun expose is the most natural and perhaps the most simple way to build up vitamin D levels within the body. A large surface area of the body, such as the back, will need to be exposed for a short period of time in direct sunlight for the vitamin to be formed. Vitamin D, in the form of vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, is formed rather rapidly upon sun exposure, meaning you can leave direct sunlight far before you begin to burn to synthesise adequate amounts.
The body can form between 10,000 and 25,000 IU (international units), of vitamin D in a short period of time under sun exposure. Considering some multivitamins typically contain 50-100 IU, this is a potent amount. Although the recommended daily value can vary depending of the institution dispensing the information, the daily intake for adults is said to be between 600-5000 IU for adults. Therefore basking in the sun each day provides the body with a surplus of this vitamin.
Amazing as it is that our bodies can create a vitamin by merely being in exposure to sun shine, there is an obvious hole at play here. Due to human migration to many diverse areas of the Earth, not everybody lives in a climate that allows them enough sun shine through parts of the year to generate enough levels of vitamin D. The further away from the equator a country is, the harder it is for the people who live their to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D during certain months of the year. For example those living in Canada will struggle from October through to April, whereas those living in Cape Town may have insufficient levels between May and August.
People living in the mentioned regions are susceptible to vitamin D deficiency and it is therefore important that they eat foods containing vitamin D or supplement larger amounts in order to avoid this.
Vitamin D is available in certain food sources, which is particularly useful for those who inhabit parts of the Earth that does not receive a massive amount of UVB rays throughout the year. There are two forms of vitamin D that are available through the diet. One form is vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, which is also the type made within the skin on sun exposure. Another form is vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol. However it is vitamin D3 that serves more of a crucial role, as it is more capable of raising blood levels of the vitamin.
Dietary sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, fatty fish and fortified cereals. With this said, it is viewed as rather difficult, or even impossible, to obtain the recommended daily amount of vitamin D through diet alone. For example, and egg yolk contains 40IU, when considering the varied recommendations for vitamin D intake, this is substantially low. For this reason supplementation is recommended in order to receive an adequate and accurate dose.
Vitamin D helps to boost the health of bones within the body by assisting with the absorption of the minerals calcium and phosphorus.
Several disorders, such as familial hypophosphatemia and Fanconi syndrome can cause low levels of phosphate in the blood, however vitamin D supplementation has been shown to treat bone disorders caused by these conditions. Phosphorous is the second most abundant mineral in the body, outnumbered only by calcium. It makes up a significant portion of the bones and teeth. It plays a variety of important roles from assisting water filtration in the kidneys to helping in the repair, growth and maintenance of tissues and cells.
Vitamin D has also been shown to boost blood levels of calcium in those with low parathyroid hormone levels, a condition that can cause levels of calcium in the body plummet. The vitamin can also assist bone softening, bone loss and bone weakness.
Vitamin D plays such an important role in the body that a deficiency can be the cause of multiple disorders and ailments, one of which is depression. Both physical and mental health are extremely important in regards to quality of life, therefore this link to deficiency and depression is even more of a reason to monitor vitamin D intake.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, effects up to 10 percent of the population of the United States and is a type of depression that is related to a change in the seasons. This may be due to the lack of UVB rays available to those who live in darker climates during the winter time. Research has shown that it is common for depressed patients to have low vitamin D levels. Additionally, vitamin D also plays a role in the creation of brain chemicals that are associated with elevated mood such as serotonin and dopamine.
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include low mood, irritability, low sex drive, loss of interest in daily activities and a decline in socialising.
Research has shown that vitamin D plays a crucial role in activating the immune system. Vitamin D is believed to be required to enable killer cells of the immune system, known as T cells, to fight off infections. Researchers have found that these cells search for vitamin D before attacking in order to become activated.
Studies are showing that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for heart attacks, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), strokes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.