Discovered in the early 1900’s, vitamin D is a group of vitamins that are extremely important for the proper functioning of your body. This vitamin was first considered to be essential for the health of the bones and doctors found that it helped in preventing a bone disorder known as rickets. However further studies suggest that the benefits of vitamin D is not just limited to bone health, but this vitamin is also needed to maintain the overall health of the body and also in preventing a number of serious illnesses. A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to several health problems including rickets, osteomalacia, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease.
The human body is not capable of synthesizing most other vitamins. You need to get these vitamins from the foods that you eat. But this is not the case with vitamin D. Your body, when exposed to sunlight can make its own vitamin D which is then converted by the body into a hormone known as activated vitamin D or calcitriol. This is the reason why vitamin D is also referred to as the Sunshine vitamin. In addition to exposing your body to sunlight regularly, you can also get vitamin D by taking supplements. Vitamin D exists in five forms – vitamin D1, vitamin D2, vitamin D3, vitamin D4 and vitamin D5, out of which vitamins D2 and D3 are important for human beings.
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How does vitamin D work?
It is essential that your body gets the adequate amounts of vitamin D to perform at its best. As mentioned above, Vitamin D is synthesized by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight. A series of chemical processes are carried out by your body to convert the vitamin in such a way that your body can make efficient use of it. The vitamin D produced in the skin is first sent to the liver. The vitamin D that you obtain from foods or supplements is also sent to the liver by your intestine. The liver then converts the vitamin into a substance known as 25(OH) D, which is transported to all parts of your body where the different tissues change it into activated vitamin D or calcitriol. The main functions of activated vitamin D include managing the amount of calcium in your bones, blood and intestine and also enabling proper communication among the various cells in your body.
How much vitamin D do you need?
According to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the following are the daily recommended intake of vitamin D:
Children and teens – 600 IU (International Units)
Adults up to age 70 – 600 IU
Adults above age 70 – 800 IU
Pregnant or breastfeeding ladies – 600 IU
Health benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a vital role in many of the important functions of the body. The absence of the right amounts of this vitamin can lead several diseases. Vitamin D offers plenty of benefits for the health of your skin, hair and body. Some of these benefits are listed below:
Vitamin D boosts your immune system
Research conducted by the University of Copenhagen shows that adequate intake vitamin D is essential for boosting your immunity. In fact, a deficiency of vitamin D can increase your risk of developing a number of diseases. German researchers have discovered that this vitamin is capable of increasing your immune function by 3 to 5 times, in addition to stimulating the production of powerful anti-microbial peptides. Vitamin D allows your body to synthesize more than 200 anti-microbial peptides, which are crucial for protecting your body from a large range of infections.
Vitamin D and skin health
Just like vitamin D is needed for the overall health of your body, it is also crucial for maintaining the health and beauty of the skin, the largest organ in the body. The presence of right amount of vitamin D in the skin helps in stimulating the production of collagen and in boosting the elasticity of the skin. It also keeps your skin smooth and radiant by minimizing the appearance of acne, fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots. Vitamin D controls the growth factors and other molecules that are responsible for cell division and cell differentiation. It also plays an important role in cell rejuvenation and skin protection. Activated vitamin D or calcitrol promotes the growth, repair, and metabolism of skin cells. It improves the immune system and helps in keeping your skin looking young by fighting off the free radicals that can cause premature aging. Topical application of vitamin D can provide a rejuvenating and protective effect on the skin. Vitamin D is an effective treatment for psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by itchy and flaky skin.
Vitamin D for healthy hair
Although more scientific evidence is required to prove this fact, vitamin D is considered to play an important role in the hair cycle. Studies suggest that this vitamin might be involved in regulating the expression of genes that promote the normal growth of hair follicles. It acts on the keratinocytes to trigger hair follicle cycling and also to stimulate hair growth. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb the minerals that are associated with the health of the hair. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to cause hair loss.
Vitamin D improves mental sharpness
According to recent studies, sufficient intake of vitamin D can improve memory and reduce mental sluggishness. The study found that people with higher levels of vitamin D in their body showed advanced memory functions as well as better ability to process information when compared to those with lower levels of this vitamin.
Vitamin D may help in reducing abdominal fat
Studies indicate that drinking orange juice fortified with vitamin D is a great way to reduce abdominal fat. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that gets stored in your fat cells. Researchers have found that there is a link between your body weight and the level of vitamin D in your body. A study published in the 2000 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Nutrition” states that obese people had considerably lower levels of vitamin D in their blood. People with high amounts of vitamin d were successful in to losing their overall weight. The receptors in your brain require vitamin D to keep cravings and hunger pangs under control, as well as to boost the levels of serotonin, the chemical that enhances your mood. Vitamin D also optimizes the ability of your body to absorb other nutrients like calcium that promote weight loss.
Vitamin D for cardiovascular health
Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining proper health of the cardiovascular system. Studies reveal that a low level of this vitamin in the body is linked to increased risks of cardiovascular problems. The deficiency of Vitamin D has been found to be a risk factor for strokes, heart attacks, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), congestive heart failure, and the conditions that are normally associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Adequate amounts of vitamin D in the body helps in preventing heart diseases by lowering inflammation, preventing the thickening of arterial walls, preventing arterial blockage, and by reducing the chances of metabolic diseases like diabetes.
Vitamin D improves muscle function
New research indicates that there is a link between vitamin D and muscle function, which includes recovery from exercise and other physical activities. Vitamin D supplementation may also be beneficial in enhancing skeletal muscle function. This may be reason why people with vitamin D deficiency commonly experience physical fatigue. Another research on adolescent girls found that vitamin D is greatly influences the muscle power, velocity, force, and also jump height.
Vitamin D for bone health
Vitamin D is extremely important for maintaining strong and healthy bones and muscles. This vitamin is required by our bodies to effectively absorb calcium, a mineral which is essential for the proper development of bones. It is important for children to get adequate amounts of vitamin D in their bodies as deficiency of this vitamin may lead to a condition known as rickets, which is characterized by bowed legs, bone weakness, and other bone deformities like stooped posture.
Some sources of vitamin D
As mentioned earlier, vitamin D is synthesized by the human body on exposure to sunlight. Only about 10 percent of your vitamin D requirement can be met from your diet, and hence it is almost impossible to get sufficient amounts of this vitamin from your food. Foods containing this vitamin are very few in number and include salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, sardines, tilapia, halibut, mushrooms – Shiitake mushroom & Button Mushrooms, tofu, fortified cereals, eggs, cod liver oil, dairy products like milk, cheese,
In spite of all the health benefits offered by this remarkable nutrient, vitamin D doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, probably due to the fact that only a very few foods in nature contain this vitamin. It is believed that the occurrence of many diseases could be reduced by about 20% to 50% or even more, if vitamin D deficiency were taken care of by increasing the intake of vitamin D through increased sunlight exposure or consuming vitamin D fortified foods or supplements.