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.
20 Amazing Benefits of Vitamin D
Research studies have shown the numerous health conditions helped by optimal vitamin D levels:
1. 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. (3)
2. 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. (4)
3. 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. (5)
4. Type 1 Diabetes
Research showed that patients were more likely to achieve lower blood sugar with higher vitamin D levels. It also provides evidence that vitamin D improves the production of insulin. (6) Regular doses of vitamin D early in life have been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Research demonstrates that vitamin D treatment has improved or prevented type 1 diabetes mellitus in animals and humans. Vitamin D also has been known to protect from autoimmune diseases in animal models. (7)
5. Healthy Bones
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. (8)
6. 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. (9,10)
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. (11)
Research shows that a vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and that deficiency may be linked to disease severity. Since a vitamin D deficiency has been linked to diffuse musculoskeletal pain, vitamin D may be therapeutic for pain relief. Research demonstrates that a vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk for the development of rheumatoid arthritis.(12 )
Research shows that higher vitamin D levels were associated with a slower progression of HIV to AIDS. Women with higher vitamin D levels had a 25% lower risk of disease progression and a lower risk of dying from any cause during the study. (13)
An association has been found between low levels of vitamin D and depression in healthy young adult women. (14) 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. It appears to be a relation between serum levels of vitamin D and symptoms of depression. Supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to relieve depression, indicating a possible causal relationship. (15) Research shows that low vitamin D concentration is associated with depression. (16)
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. (17) 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. (18)
12. Colds and Flu
Research shows that vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu. (19) Vitamin D is an important factor in immune system health. Research demonstrates that people who have low vitamin D levels may have an increased risk of developing influenza. (20)
Research revealed that a vitamin D deficiency was higher in autistic children compared to healthy children, and supplementing infants with vitamin D might be a safe and more effective strategy for reducing the risk of autism. (21)
Research shows that vitamin D3 seems to play a significant role in the cause of autism because this vitamin is important for brain development. Lower concentrations of vitamin D3 may lead to increased brain size, altered brain shape, and enlarged ventricles, which have been observed in patients with autism. Higher concentrations of vitamin D3 may reduce the risk of autism. It has also been suggested that vitamin D3 deficiency may cause autistic symptoms.In a case study, the patient’s core symptoms of autism improved significantly after vitamin D3 supplementation. This stresses the importance of clinical assessment of vitamin D3 deficiency and the need for vitamin D3 supplementation in patients with autism. (22)
Vitamin D decreases cell proliferation and increases cell differentiation, stops the growth of new blood vessels, and has significant anti-inflammatory effects.(23) 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. (24) Girls with the greatest exposure to sunlight during the ages of 10-19 had a 35% decreased risk of breast cancer as adults. (25)
Research results confirm that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease. The brain relies on vitamin D receptors for protection. Scientists do know that vitamin D receptors work in many ways to protect the brain. (26) A large French study suggests that maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in older age could contribute to slow down cognitive decline and delay or prevent the onset of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. (27) 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. (32)
16. Crohn’s Disease
Low sunlight exposure is associated with an increased incidence of Crohn’s disease. (28)
Research studies have found that adults that are vitamin D deficient have an increased likelihood of atopic dermatitis. (29) Research also demonstrates that a vitamin D deficiency was higher among children with atopic dermatitis, or eczema. (30)
Research demonstrates that high-dose vitamin D3 therapy may be effective for psoriasis patients. The treatment in the study provided benefit to 9 out of 9 patients with psoriasis. (31)
19. 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. (33)
20. Autoimmune Diseases
Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disease. (34)
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.
13. HIV and Aids
34. Vitamin D Supplementation: An Update. US Pharm. 2010;35:58–76. (No link)