Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins required by our body because its role in shaping our health is similar to that of a hormone. It is one of the 4 fat-soluble vitamins in our body. Human beings require an adequate amount of Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) for proper absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphates. There are many food items which contain Vitamin D such as fish, fish liver oil, egg yolks, and dairy products. But the main source of Vitamin D is the one produced internally in our bodies. When our skin is exposed to the skin, the cholesterol under it gets converted to Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.
Since exposure to sunlight is required for synthesis of Vitamin D, this vitamin is also referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”.
The body’s requirement for Vitamin D is different for different age groups and usually ranges from 800-1000 IU/day.
Since calcium absorption is one of the main functions of Vitamin D, it is crucial for maintaining strong bones in the body.
Earlier, Vitamin D was only associated with bone structures and its deficiency was linked to the disease rickets in children (a skeletal deformity caused by soft bones).
But studies now reveal that this vitamin is crucial in dealing with other conditions such as metabolic disorders, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, auto-immune disease, and even depression.
Factors that make you deficient in Vitamin D
The following factors are responsible for causing the Vitamin D levels to drop below normal levels
• Limited or no exposure to sunlight. This usually happens if one wears too much sun-block or is mostly working indoors or night-shifts. Many cold countries which receive a limited amount of sunlight will have more population deficient in Vitamin D. Limited sunlight during winters also might be a reason.
• A strict vegan diet (no meats, fish, poultry, or dairy) is also responsible for Vitamin D deficiency since these are the main sources of Vitamin D3.
• Dark-skinned people have more melanin in their skin. This reduces the synthesis of Vitamin D3 from sunlight. Hence, dark-skinned people are more vulnerable to Vitamin D deficiency.
• If you are obese or overweight, you have a high risk of being Vitamin D deficient.
• In case of elderly people, the kidneys are not much capable of activating Vitamin D. Hence, old age also becomes a factor in making one deficient in Vitamin D.
• Certain medical conditions such as celiac disease and cystic fibrosis lead to poor nutrient absorption in the intestine. Such conditions may also cause the deficiency of Vitamin D.
How does our body start behaving in Vitamin D deficiency?
The following symptoms are observed in individuals who have low levels of Vitamin D
• Vitamin D boosts our body’s natural immunity. Vitamin D deficiency causes the person to fall sick more often and be frequently plagued with infections. Recurring colds, flu, and other respiratory tract diseases have been linked with Vitamin D deficiency.
• Excessive fatigue, especially in young women, is caused due to low levels of Vitamin D.
• Bone health and skeletal deformities occur as a result of such deficiency. Rickets and osteomalacia occur in children resulting in soft and weak bones which become bow-shaped. Vitamin D deficiency may also result in pain felt in bones and overall bent structure of the body. Persistent lower back ache may also be an after-effect.
• Vitamin D is also found to be critical in controlling inflammation and healing wounds. If one has such deficiency, cuts due to injuries or following surgeries will take much longer time to heal.
• Low-bone density especially in older women (menopausal or post-menopausal).
• Muscle pains and hair loss are also linked with nutrient-deficiency, mostly Vitamin D.
How will your doctor detect this condition?
The above-mentioned physical symptoms are clear-cut indicators of Vitamin D deficiency. But since these symptoms don’t have a sudden onset and usually occur subtly, most people don’t realize that they are deficient in Vitamin D. But it can be easily determined by a simple blood test. The blood test’s name is 25 hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH) D. The following levels indicate whether you have this vitamin deficiency or not.• Deficient : below 12 ng/ml
• Insufficient: 12-20 ng/ml
• Normal : 20-60 ng/ml
• Excessive: more than 60 ng/ml
Building up your Vitamin D levels
In case one has been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency, he/she can follow these steps to bring your Vitamin D to normal levels.
• Start taking Vitamin D3 supplements. Long-term Vitamin D2 supplement is not advisable.
• These supplements should be consumed with a diet which has adequate fat content.
• Those who are obese or have low nutrient absorption, they should be consuming higher dosage of the vitamin supplement.
• UVB rays of sunlight are responsible for Vitamin D synthesis in our body. Make sure that one gets adequate exposure to sunlight.
• Consume a diet rich in Vitamin D. Soy, almonds, mushrooms are good options for vegetarians. Those who do consume animal products should include more of beef liver, salmon, cod liver oil, tuna, mackerel, cooked egg yolks.
Is Vitamin D deficiency preventable?
Yes, the onset of this nutritional deficiency can be prevented by following these simple steps
• Eating a well-balanced diet which is rich in vitamins.
• Exposure to sunlight every day for at least 15-20 minutes.
• Walking and having a daily exercise routine will help maintain the body weight. It will also expose one to proper sunlight.
• Intestines, kidney, and liver function must be maintained at healthy levels for proper absorption of nutrients.
• Breast-milk alone is not sufficient to maintain Vitamin D3 levels in infants; hence, they should be given proper supplements.
• If one has a family history of Vitamin D deficiency and/or osteoporosis, he/she should regularly keep a check on vitamin D levels.
- Vitamin D deficiency caused rickets in almost 90% of children in New York and Boston (USA) and Leyden (Netherlands) in the late 1800s.
- Compared to white-skinned people, dark-toned people need 3-5 times more exposure to sunlight to synthesize an equivalent amount of vitamin D.
- Studies indicate strong links between depression and low levels of Vitamin D (almost 65% ).
- In the United States, vitamin D supplements sales jumped from $75 million in 2006 to $550 million in 2010.
- Excessive intakes of vitamin D can also be harmful. It may cause hypercalcemia which causes large calcium deposits in the body.
- Vitamin D is also found responsible for protecting the body against breast cancer and prostate cancer.
- UVB rays cannot penetrate glass; hence one should step outdoors for proper sunlight exposure.
- Around 40% of the total American population is deficient in Vitamin D.
Dos and Don'ts
- If you are living away from the equator, you need more sunlight exposure.
- Vitamin D supplements are of no use if the body doesn’t maintain proper calcium levels. Hence, consume Vitamin D supplements along with calcium tablets.
- Apply sunscreen every time you are exposed to sunlight. A sun-block with minimum SPF can also block UVB rays.
- Expect the supplements to show immediate results. It may take months for the levels to normalize.
- Consume too much caffeine intake if diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. Similarly, restrict the consumption of sugary products and saturated fats.
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