What is Vitamin D Good For?
Many people refer to vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin. Unlike most other nutrients, it’s not abundant in food sources. Exposure to sunlight causes the body to manufacture vitamin D. Those who do not live in a climate that allows for lots of exposure to natural sunlight or cannot consume foods that contain or are fortified with vitamin D are encouraged to take supplemental forms of it. Why? Because vitamin D is good for a wide range of things. It has proven to provide both mental and physical health benefits.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not an average nutrient. It’s not even really a vitamin. Instead, it’s a hormone, so it affects many organs throughout the body. As a vitamin, it’s classified as a fat-soluble vitamin. It’s found in salmon and some other foods, foods that are fortified with it, and dietary supplements. When the body is exposed to sunlight, the skin starts to convert UV light to D3. It then travels through the blood, kidneys, and liver where it is converted into an active form of vitamin D. In its active form, the body dispatches vitamin D throughout the body where it benefits various organs like the brain, heart, muscles, and pancreas.
How is Vitamin D good for the Body?
The sunshine vitamin provides a host of benefits throughout the body. Here are a few of the ways vitamin D is good for the body.
- Maintain Strong Bones. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium which is a critical mineral to keep bonds strong. Calcium and vitamin D work closely in the bloodstream to activate cells in bones which helps keep them strong.
- Promote Strong Muscles. Muscle strength is closely related to vitamin D intake as it helps keep them strong.
- Boosting the Immune System. To maintain a healthy immune system and stay healthy, you’ll need adequate amounts of vitamin D. Both B cells and T cells have receptors for vitamin D. B cells help produce antibodies, and T cells are crucial to the body’s immune response.
- Helps with Brain Function. There appears to be a link between neurological function and vitamin D. Research suggests that vitamin D promotes brain development and helps prevent neurodegenerative conditions.
- Helps battle depression. The sun affects your mood and vitamin D can too. Some research has indicated a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Treating the deficiency improves mood and tends to decrease depression.
- Reduce the risk of some cancers. The sunshine vitamin may be able to inhibit the formation of tumors and cancer formation. It may play a role in helping reduce the risk of developing breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
- Help prevent osteoporosis. Because of the role vitamin D plays in maintaining strong bones, it can help prevent osteoporosis.
- Improve heart health. D3 may help reduce the risk of developing heart failure. It also helps improve heart function, especially in people who have weak heart muscles. A deficiency of vitamin D may increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart attacks.
How to Be Sure You Are Getting Enough Vitamin D
The FDA recommendations for vitamin D intake are 600 IU for adults up to 70 years of age and 800 IU for adults who are over 70. Most people can handle up to a maximum of 4,000 IU a day. You can be sure to get enough vitamin D by:
- Eating foods that contain vitamin D
- Getting more exposure to sunlight
- Taking supplements
Foods that Contain Vitamin D
Getting adequate amounts from food alone can be difficult, but these foods do contain vitamin D.
- 3 ounces of beef liver – 42IU
- 1 tablespoon butter – 9IU
- Fortified cereal – 80 IU
- 1 ounce of cheese – 12 IU
- 1 egg yolk – 44IU
- .5 fillet halibut – 383 IU
- .5 fillet mackerel – 360IU
- 1 cup fortified milk – 120IU
- 2 sardines – 46IU
- 3 ounces trout – 645IU
- 3 ounces tuna – 40IU
It is harder for vegetarians and vegans to get enough from food alone. Supplements are an important resource for them. Mushrooms and fortified non-dairy milks are a good source of Vitamin D2.
Getting Vitamin D from Supplements
Taking supplements is the easiest and most efficient way to get enough vitamin D every day. You may want to talk to your health care provider about proper dosage.
Getting Vitamin D from Sunlight
It is a myth that the skin absorbs vitamin D from the sun. But even though the sun doesn’t directly give you vitamin D, it does start a chain reaction.
The UV-B rays from the sun reach your skin and activate vitamin D receptor cells. This triggers a chemical reaction that causes the cells to produce D3.
Being exposed to some sunlight every day can help you maintain good vitamin D levels. Of course, there is some concern about exposure to sunlight and skin cancer. Some experts still recommend 10 to 15 minutes of exposure a few times a week to help maintain vitamin D levels. Others suggest there is no safe way to expose skin to the sun without increasing the risk of skin cancer. There is also no way to measure how effective exposure to sunlight is. You don’t know for sure how much vitamin D you are getting from the sun. It’s easier to track vitamin D intake via foods and supplements.
Should I worry about a vitamin D deficiency?
Some of the latest research indicates more than a billion people in the world are deficient in vitamin D. Some of the symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Weak bones
- Hair loss
When the body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it can lead to health conditions like depression, arthritis, eczema, and hypertension. A blood test can let you know your vitamin D levels. You can discuss your intake with your primary health care provider. Please note that vitamin D levels are not usually included in routine blood work. You will need to request the test.
Vitamin D is Good for You!
Getting enough vitamin D is important for a healthy body. It is good for your body, bones, brain, and more. You can get this vitamin from sunshine, food, and supplements.