It’s a happy day! You wake up with the sunlight trickling through your windows, and it’s a great day to be alive. What is it about that great big ball of light in the sky that seems to make depression vanish and your body wants to jump for joy?
The sun is giving off more than harmful rays you’ve been warned about. It is also a rich source for vitamin D, but how do you reap the benefits without causing worrisome harm to your body instead? Before you slip your head back under the covers to avoid all danger, learn the important health benefits behind the “Sunshine Vitamin”, also known as vitamin D, and discover safe ways to get enough.
First the Facts – What is Vitamin D?
The bottom line is that vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient as well as a hormone that our bodies produce. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for general overall good health.
It helps in:
- The formation of strong, healthy bones
- Maintaining healthy muscles that allow you to move
- Keeping the lungs and respiratory system functioning
- Keeping the heart healthy
- Maintaining Healthy nerve connections
- Keeping the brain functioning well
This sunshine vitamin also plays an important role in helping to fight infection, bacteria and viruses. It is even being researched for cancer-fighting properties.
It’s Calcium’s BFF and Other Factors That Make Vitamin D Unique
Unlike some vitamins that the body absorbs immediately, vitamin D is different. Instead, our bodies make their own vitamin D when we expose our skin to the light from the sun. Once our bodies get enough vitamin D, it transforms it into a hormone. The hormone that is produced is known as either calcitriol or activated vitamin D.
The reason vitamin D is essential for developing strong bones is because healthy bones need phosphorus and calcium for strength. Vitamin D is what assists these minerals to make them deliverable to the bones. You can eat tons of calcium and phosphorus rich foods, but without vitamin D, your bones will not absorb either.
Vitamin D helps build strong, healthy bones and promotes good dental health. Vitamin D supplements and the amounts that come from the sun are not just simply absorbed by the body. It goes through a number of changes before the body can sufficiently use it. Once it’s ready and available within the body for use, it helps cells begin to communicate with each other well. It also helps to manage calcium levels in the blood, gut, and bones.
Get Acquainted with Vitamin D – Where do we get it?
There are not very many foods that provide a good source for vitamin D, though some foods, such as milk, cereals, yogurt, and some orange juices have been fortified to provide the vitamin. Foods like salmon, tuna, or mackerel are your best choices to find vitamin D in your diet. Cheese, egg yolks, beef liver, and some mushrooms also contain small amounts.
A large source for vitamin D is the sun, more specifically it comes from the Ultra Violet B rays (UVB) that the sun produces. When we spend time in the sun, our bodies absorb Vitamin D.
Some experts argue that even if you brave the sun’s risks, you still won’t produce enough vitamin D. Dermatologists say that it’s not worth the chance of skin cancer if you can get it very safely in a pill. Another form of vitamin D is from supplements.
Like a Set of Fraternal Twins, There are 2 kinds – Learn to Tell the Two Apart – What’s the Difference?
Technically speaking, the dictionary describes Vitamin D as a 3-part nutrient: “Vitamin D1 is a mixture of lumisterol and calciferol, obtained by ultraviolet irradiation of ergostero. Vitamin D2 is calciferol, and Vitamin D3 is a D vitamin, C27H43OH, occurring in fish-liver oils, that differs from vitamin D2 by slight structural differences in the molecule, also called cholecalciferol.”
Generally speaking, there are two main forms of vitamin D that are useful in a vitamin supplement form:
Both increase the vitamin D level in the blood.
After your skin is exposed to sunshine, it produces vitamin D. It then sends it to the liver. If you receive your vitamin D from supplements, your gut sends the vitamin D to the liver. Either way, the vitamin goes through the liver where it is changed into a substance known by scientists as 25(OH)D. This substance is sent through the bloodstream and is deposited in various tissues, including the kidney, where it is turned into activated vitamin D that is ready to go to work for your body’s overall health.
There are two main types of Vitamin D supplements that are available over-the-counter, vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. While vitamin D2 is beneficial, most experts agree that vitamin D3 is the most beneficial. D3 is the most natural form of vitamin D that binds better than D2 to nerve receptors in human tissues and has been shown to be more effective in maintaining vitamin D levels in blood test trials. When it comes to practical reasons of choosing between the two forms of vitamin D, D3 has a better shelf life. If you are taking the vitamin in a supplemental form, D3 is the most common form you will find available.
From a more pharmaceutical and technical aspect, both forms are derived in a laboratory setting by exposure to ultraviolet light. Vitamin D2 is derived from a fungus or yeast while vitamin D3 is derived from an animal source using cholesterol, which makes the D2 the preferable choice for Vegans. Many vitamin D prescriptions use D2.
Why are So Many People Deficient in Vitamin D?
With fear of acquiring skin cancer many people now slather on the sunscreen or avoid being outside when the sun is shining its brightest. While sunscreen claims to protect against cancer-causing rays, it also blocks out essential vitamin D that is carried in the UVB rays of the sun.
Others at risk for not getting enough vitamin D are:
- Older adults
- Breastfed infants whose mothers are deficient in the vitamin
- Those who have limited sun exposure
- Dark skinned people
- Obese individuals
- Those with certain gastrointestinal issues that prevent the body from absorbing fat.
There are also a few prescription drugs that interfere with vitamin D levels in the bloodstream.
Do I Have Enough – How is it tested?
A simple blood test will reveal how much vitamin D is being absorbed into the body. When a doctor tests for proper amounts of vitamin D, the lab is actually looking for how much 25-hydroxy vitamin D, or 25(OH)D is in the blood. Usually, fasting is not required to perform the test. For a healthy test, the doctor will be looking for the lab report to indicate that there is between 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
D-ficient – What are the dangers of being Vitamin D deficient?
The most common result of a vitamin D deficiency is called rickets, and in adults it is called osteomalacia. Both create unhealthy brittle bones.
Several years ago, doctors began to see a connection between cod liver oil and sunshine, both of which contain vitamin D, and healthy bones. Specifically, a bone condition in children known as rickets was prevented with the use of vitamin-D-rich sources. In 1922, after noticing that children who live near a supply of fresh fish did not suffer from the disease, medical research discovered that cod liver oil containing vitamin D cured and prevented rickets. A few years later, the United States and Europe began to add vitamin D2 to milk which seemed to eliminate the disease completely.
Today, much research has shown that vitamin D helps prevent and treat other ailments successfully as well. Doctors and scientists are now realizing that asthma, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, alzheimers, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, chrohns disease, and even cancer are thought to be affected by lack of vitamin D. Fertility, polysistic ovaries and other ailments may also benefit from vitamin D.
Studies suggest that proper amounts of vitamin D may lower the amounts of asthma attacks in children.
In late 2013, the National Institute of Health announced a study that is now underway to determine whether or not vitamin D could help delay or prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Psychological studies have been conducted and indicate that when those who suffered with depression were given vitamin D, they reported feeling better.
Because Vitamin D creates a healthy balance of hormones in the body, it only makes sense that it could affect fertility. Estrogen dominance is a big obstacle many woman face when trying to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby. A study was conducted by Dr. Cannel of the Vitamin D Council that indicated higher doses of vitamin D lowered estradiol and progesterone. Other studies conducted on rats show that a lack of sufficient amounts of vitamin D increases infertility by as much as 75%. When vitamin D was used in the studies, fertility rates increased by 6%, and it also improved the success of in-vitro fertilizations.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
One of the leading causes of infertility is PCOS. A 2011 study indicated that many women who suffered from PCOS are also deficient in vitamin D.
High Blood Pressure
Dr. Vimal Karani S. announced at a European Society of Human Genetics conference that “For every 10% increase in 25(OH)D concentrations, the researchers noted the risk of developing hypertension decreased by 8.1%.
A professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Alberto Ascherio, has stated that research indicates vitamin D is beneficial to MS patients. His studies showed that people with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to develop new brain lesions and had a worse prognosis than those with higher levels.
The Alzheimer’s Research Center claims that vitamin D deficiency could play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease because of the elderly’s reduced exposure to the sun and the skin’s decreased ability to synthesize the vitamin.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation reported that increased vitamin D intake has shown to decrease the risk of developing Crohn’s disease.
A National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet indicates that increasing levels of vitamin D have shown to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, while studies are still in development regarding the benefit of vitamin D with treating or preventing other forms of cancer.
How much vitamin D is enough?
Getting the proper amounts of vitamin D is more about getting safe amounts of sun exposure and taking supplements. Though, experts still vary on how much is enough. The Food and Nutrition Board, for instance, recommends as little as 400 IU for infants and 600 IU per day for an adult while the Endocrine Society suggests 1,500 to 2,000 IU per day is more adequate for an adult. The Vitamin D Council suggests higher dosages are even more beneficial.
The original research the discovered the benefits on vitamin D on treating and preventing rickets indicated that the minimal amount needed to prevent the disease was 100 IU a day. Considering your body manufactures an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in just 15 minutes of sun exposure, the Vitamin D Council’s 5,000 IU recommendation per day may not be too extreme.
To gain the benefits from the sun’s rays, the Vitamin D Council recommends that you spend about half the amount of time in the sun that it takes for your skin to begin to turn pink. Do not stay out long enough to burn. For a fair-skinned person this could be as little as 15 minutes or up to a couple hours for a darker skinned person. The same Council recommends, if you choose to get your vitamin D from supplements, an adult should take in about 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day, while children and infants need 1,000 IU/per day per 25 pounds of body weight. Other organizations suggest less amounts of vitamin D are needed.
Here’s one of my favorite short videos describing vitamin d’s impact on genetics by Rhonda Patric Phd. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vcz64RGa1D0&feature=youtu.be
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