Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, has gained a lot of popularity over the past several years. People are realizing how important it is for their body to function optimally and to help prevent disease. A meta-analysis published in 2007 showed that vitamin D supplementation was associated with significantly reduced mortality.(1) Let’s take a look at this amazing vitamin.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, is actually a steroid hormone. While some vitamin D is supplied by the diet, most of it is made in the body. Vitamin D works in your body in two ways: it manages calcium in your blood, bones and gut, and helps cells all over your body to communicate properly.
Vitamin D Deficiency is Prevalent Today
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency. This deficiency can be attributed to lifestyle (such as reduced outdoor activities) and environmental (such as air pollution) factors that reduce exposure to sunlight, which is required for ultraviolet-B (UVB)-induced vitamin D production in the skin.(2)
To get enough vitamin D, you need regular exposure to sunlight. Most people today are deficient, so it is helpful to take vitamin D supplements to raise your vitamin D levels. If you live in the north, then you definitely aren’t getting enough sunshine year round. People with darker skin also tend to have low vitamin D levels. Severe deficiency can cause a condition called rickets in children and a condition called osteomalacia in adults. Both of these conditions cause soft, thin, and brittle bones.
How do we get vitamin D?
Sunlight: Vitamin D is made in your skin when exposed to sunlight – your body uses cholesterol to make it.
Vitamin D3 Supplements: Daily supplementation of vitamin D3 is recommended.
Some Foods: A very small amount of vitamin D comes from food. Vitamin D can be found in eggs, raw milk, fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel), caviar, mushrooms and cod liver oil. Some foods such as milk and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D, as well.
Health Conditions Helped by Optimal Vitamin D Levels:
Heart Disease High Blood Pressure Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes Healthy Bones Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Macular Degeneration Arthritis HIV/AIDS
Depression Asthma Colds and Flu
Autism Cancer Alzheimer’s
Crohn’s Eczema Psoriasis
Dementia Parkinson’s Mental Health
Research Backs Up Vitamin D Health Benefits
Research studies have shown the amazing benefits of vitamin D for our health. Here are a few examples:
• Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is a chronic, neurodegenerative disease of the nerves in your brain and spinal column. Conventional doctors prescribe immune suppressing medications like prednisone and interferon. Research shows that vitamin D3 improves the inflammation and immune status in patients with multiple sclerosis, and that higher vitamin D levels are inversely correlated to lower incidence of multiple sclerosis in women. (3,4)
• Heart Disease
In the Framingham Heart Study, patients with low vitamin D concentrations had a 60% higher risk of heart disease than those with higher concentrations. (5)
• High Blood Pressure
In another study, which followed men and women for four years, patients with low vitamin D concentrations were three times more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension than those with high concentrations. (6)
• Type 2 Diabetes
A trial of nondiabetic patients aged 65 years and older found that those who received 700 IU of vitamin D (plus calcium) had a smaller rise in fasting sugar over three years versus those who received placebo. A correlation between vitamin D and diabetes risk can be ruled in from the results. (7)
• Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans and it is considered an incurable eye disease. A research study shows that the odds of age-related macular degeneration were highest in those with deficient vitamin D status. (8)
An association has been found between low levels of vitamin D and depression in healthy young adult women. (9) A Norwegian trial of overweight people showed that those receiving a high dose of vitamin D had a significant improvement in depression after one year versus those receiving placebo. The result determines a correlation between vitamin D and the risk of depression. (10)
• Cognitive Impairment
In the Invecchiare in Chianti (InCHIANTI) Italian population-based study, low levels of vitamin D were associated with substantial cognitive decline in the elderly population studied during a 6-year period. (11)
• Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a major cause of disability in the elderly population. Recently, it has been suggested that chronically inadequate vitamin D intake may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease. A cohort study based on the Mini-Finland Health Survey demonstrated that low vitamin D levels may predict the development of Parkinson’s disease. (12)
• Fractures and Falls
A combined analysis of twelve fracture-prevention trials found that supplementation with about 800 IU of vitamin D per day reduced hip and nonspinal fractures by about 20. (13)
• Autoimmune Diseases
Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disease. (14)
Low maternal vitamin D and E intakes during pregnancy are associated with increased risk of children developing asthma in the first ten years of life. (15) The results of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies (ISAAC) Phase II in Spain indicate that sunny hours have a protective effect on the prevalence of asthma in school children. (16)
Vitamin D decreases cell proliferation and increases cell differentiation, stops the growth of new blood vessels, and has significant anti-inflammatory effects.(17)
• Breast Cancer
Women who live in the sunniest areas and have the highest exposure to sunlight have a 65% reduction in breast cancer risk compared to those who have the least sunlight exposure. (18) Girls with the greatest exposure to sunlight during the ages of 10-19 had a 35% decreased risk of breast cancer as adults. (19)
• Crohn’s Disease
Low sunlight exposure is associated with an increased incidence of Crohn’s disease. (20)
To hear more information about vitamin D, listen to the experts. In this podcast, Dr. Donald Ellsworth and Dr. Marc Sorenson discuss the benefits of vitamin D.
Ramp Up Your Vitamin D
Now do you have enough motivation to ramp up your vitamin D level? Wouldn’t it be nice to prevent all sorts of health problems simply by getting regular sunshine and taking a vitamin? Get outside as much as possible to soak in the sunlight, but be sure not to get sunburned. Keep in mind that sunscreen can block your body’s ability to make vitamin D. Take a quality vitamin D3 supplement. Be sure to have a doctor check your vitamin D3 levels so that you take the correct dosage to get you to your optimal level.
14. Vitamin D Supplementation: An Update. US Pharm. 2010;35:58–76. (No link)