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You might assume that vitamin D is just another essential vitamin, but you’ll be surprised to know that it’s not. In fact, it stands completely apart from all other vitamins. Vitamin D, more commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, is actually a steroid hormone produced as a result of the sun’s exposure. Despite being called the sunshine vitamin, the amount of vitamin D produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight isn’t adequate, and only a few food sources contain it. Hence, vitamin D deficiency is quite common. This guide to understanding vitamin D will help you out with any questions that you may have regarding this oh-so-vital nutrient.
To know more about what really vitamin D is, why it is so important for the human body, and what can happen if you don’t get enough of this vitamin, continue reading this guide to understanding vitamin D.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential factor contributing to the healthy functioning of your heart, lungs, muscles, and brain. Your body can make its own vitamin D when you expose your skin to sunlight. However, as mentioned earlier, you can also supplement vitamin D through vitamin D-rich food sources (that are quite a few).
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However, your body can’t utilize the vitamin D that is produced as a result of sun exposure. It goes through various structural transformations before it takes the form in which the body can use it. The final form of vitamin D plays a vital role in the management of calcium in your bones, blood, and gut.
This fat-soluble vitamin occurs in 2 forms in food sources; cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) found in certain animal foods and ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2), a component of some plant foods. Vitamin D3 is two times as effective as vitamin D2 in increasing the levels of vitamin D in the blood.
What Does It Do and How?
Vitamin D has to undergo two chemical and structural transformations to become active, which is the form in which the body uses it. The first transformation occurs in the liver, where vitamin D is converted into calcidiol (25[OH]D). It is the form in which vitamin D is stored in the body.
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The second transformation involves the formation of calcitriol (1,25[OH]2D), which occurs in the kidney. Calcitriol is the steroid hormone (active form) of vitamin D. This form of vitamin D attaches to the vitamin D receptors.
When calcitriol attached to its receptors, it causes the genes to either turn on or off, bringing about changes accordingly. Vitamin D is known to have an impact on bone health. It promotes calcium and phosphorus absorption from the gut. However, these aren’t the only areas where vitamin D works. It is also believed to boost the immune system and offer significant protection against cancer.
Health Benefits of Vitamin D
Research suggests that vitamin D is extremely beneficial for a person’s health. Some of the benefits with the most scientific data backing them up are listed below:
Improved Bone Health
Vitamin D can improve bone health by promoting the absorption of calcium from the gut. Higher doses of supplemental vitamin D can reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis and fractures in adults of an older age, whose bones have become weaker.
Vitamin D is known to enhance the physical strength of the lower and upper limbs. Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D can make you physically stronger.
Prevention Of Cancer
As mentioned above, vitamin D can offer protection against cancer. According to a study, taking 1100 IU of vitamin D per day with calcium can reduce the risk of cancer by 60%. (Ref: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19523595/)
Helps Manages Depression
Some studies show that vitamin D can relieve symptoms of depression. However, further studies are required to support this claim.
Other benefits of vitamin D include improved mortality and reduced risk of developing type-1 diabetes, but there is still not much scientific proof to support these claims as of yet.
How Can Vitamin D Deficiency Affect Health?
As mentioned earlier, only a small amount of vitamin D is produced as a result of sun exposure, and there aren’t many food sources that contain vitamin D, making vitamin D deficiency very common. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are subtle. However, in serious cases, it can lead to numerous health issues.
The most common symptom is rickets, which is a bone disease that is more common in developing countries. Vitamin D deficiency can also cause osteoporosis, increased risk of fractures and falls, and reduced bone mineral density. Moreover, people suffering from vitamin D deficiency are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases, dementia, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.
Daily Recommended Intake
A vitamin D concentration of less than 12ng/ml is what marks vitamin D deficiency. Healthy individuals must have a concentration of at least 20ng/ml and aim for 30ng/ml for maximum benefit. The daily recommended intake (RDI) of vitamin D is as follows:
- Infants: 10 mcg (400 IU)
- Children and adults: 15 mcg (600 IU)
- Breastfeeding women and older adults: 20 mcg (800 IU)
This guide to understanding vitamin D tells you all about how vitamin D plays a vital role in regulating numerous body functions. It’s one of the components that your body can produce on its own. However, considering the small quantities that the body produces upon sun exposure and the limited dietary sources of this vitamin, a significant percentage of individuals are deficient and have to opt for vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D deficiency isn’t something you should take lightly. If your vitamin D levels are below 12ng/ml, you need to start taking supplements immediately!