Vitamin D also known as the “sunshine vitamin” is a fat-soluble vitamin required for normal growth of teeth and bones, and many other systems. It is found in foods such as fish, eggs and fortified drinks. Skin production of vitamin D depends on exposure to sunlight. Active people living in sunny regions produce most of the vitamin D they need from their skin. In less sunny regions, the skin production of vitamin D is greatly diminished especially during the winter months, during which time vitamin D supplementation becomes vital.
Vitamin D is activated in the kidneys and it works as a hormone, regulating, among other things, the concentration of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream, and promoting normal growth and strength of bones. Vitamin D deficiency can result in thin, brittle or misshapen bones, while enough vitamin D helps prevent rickets (softening of bones in children potentially leading to fractures and deformity) and osteomalacia (milder form of the same disease) in adults. These are extreme cases of vitamin D deficiency, but today, the impact of vitamin D deficiency is evident in every system of the body, from the immune to the nervous system.
It is very important to have your vitamin D levels tested so that you know if your current lifestyle, nutritional intake, and overall health are providing you with the adequate levels of this vital nutrient. First you need to know how low you are, which will determine how much you need to take, and then you need to be retested after a few months so that you know when to reduce the amount you are taking.
Vitamin D and Infection
The role of vitamin D as an infection fighting nutrient is now obvious. Researchers have shown that vitamin D plays an essential role for activating immune defenses from T cells in the body. A study published in 2009, by the researchers at the EMNet Coordinating Center in Boston, linked vitamin D deficiency with increased risk of respiratory infections and asthma. Another study done in 2006 by the UCLA researchers showed that vitamin D deficiency is connected with higher susceptibility of tuberculosis. Vitamin D increases the body’s production of naturally occurring antibiotics, namely the antimicrobial peptides. Antimicrobial peptides are produced in numerous cells in the human body where they directly and rapidly destroy the cell walls of viruses and bacteria.
Researchers have found a link between vitamin D deficiency and the flu. Most vitamin D is created from exposure to sunshine, therefore vitamin D deficiency is more common in winter exactly when cold and flu levels reach their peak. A large study appearing in the February 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine found that people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having more recent colds or flu. Vitamin D plays an important role in the prevention of common respiratory infections such as colds and the flu.
Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention
A study published by the Journal of American Dietetic Association in 2010, showed that the role of Vitamin D in overall health including cancer prevention is undeniable. There is a lot of scientific evidence showing that the risk of colorectal cancer is reduced with adequate Vitamin D status. The sunshine vitamin has also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Vitamin D may help prevent cancer in several ways, including maintaining healthy cells with normal life spans, discouraging out-of-control cell reproduction, and hindering the formation of new blood vessels for tumors.
Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the nerves of the brain and spinal cord are damaged by one’s own immune system, resulting in loss of muscle control and sensation. One environmental factor influencing the risk for developing MS is sunshine, and in particular a vitamin D deficiency, therefore people in parts of the world that get less sunlight (such as Canada) are more likely than others to get multiple sclerosis. Studies showing the involvement of vitamin D in immune and nervous system functioning bring evidence to support this. It has also been shown that Vitamin D helps control a gene known to increase the risk of multiple sclerosis. Thus adequate levels of vitamin D taken during pregnancy and early in life may help prevent the disease in those predisposed to MS.
Vitamin D and Lung Function
A study published in August 2010 by researchers from the University of Cincinnati, showed a high occurrence of vitamin D deficiency in patients with interstitial lung disease and connective tissue disease, and thus vitamin D deficiency has been connected with reduced lung function. Another study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado in April 2010 showed that in asthmatics, reduced vitamin D levels are associated with weaker lung function, suggesting that supplementation with vitamin D may improve the severity of asthma symptoms. Vitamin D has potent anti-inflammatory properties, one more reason why vitamin D is useful for asthmatics.
Vitamin D and Diabetes
Recent studies show that vitamin D supplementation is beneficial for people with diabetes or insulin resistance and may prevent or delay symptoms of diabetes. While increasing vitamin D levels is not considered a cure for diabetes, vitamin D supplementation have been shown to be helpful in treating diabetes, improving insulin secretion and reducing insulin sensitivity.
Vitamin D and Mood
Vitamin D may help increase the brain’s serotonin levels, having a positive impact on depressive symptoms. In June, 2010, the researchers from the Loyola University in Chicago found that the effective detection and treatment of low vitamin D levels in depressive patients may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health as well as their quality of life.
A recent study conducted by VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam showed that vitamin D may be an effective and intriguing possibility for the treatment of depression, especially in older patients. The study indicated that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to depression symptoms.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a situational mood disorder caused by decreasing daylight in the winter months. High doses of vitamin D during winter have been proven to be a very effective natural remedy for SAD.
Vitamin D and Pregnancy
In a very recent study, published in September 2010, researchers from the CHA University, School of Medicine in Seoul stated that an adequate vitamin D intake is essential for the health of the mother and child during pregnancy, and there is sufficient evidence that many pregnant women have low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to preeclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus and an increased risk for C-section delivery. Vitamin D has also been proved to decrease the risk of infection and improve the length of gestation, and infant bone mineralization.
Vitamin D and Kids
Vitamin D plays an incredibly important role when it comes to the growth and development of children. In an extreme case, vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, a disease that results in soft, weak bones in children. But there are other cases such as impaired brain function and asthma in kids that have been linked to vitamin D deficiency.
A study published in April 2008 by the researchers from the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, showed that vitamin D is vital for the brain development of children because of the wide distribution of vitamin D receptors throughout the brain. Hence, adequate levels of vitamin D have been shown to improve memory, learning ability and concentration.
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that asthma symptoms may be worse for children who had low vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in all body functions, helping many systems including the immune, nervous and respiratory system. In order to enjoy the wonderful benefits of Vitamin D, such as healthy bones, lower cancer risks and better mood, make sure you get your vitamin D levels checked, take the appropriate dosage for your specific needs and also enjoy moderate sun exposure several times a week, weather permitting.
Vitamin D testing is available at the Wellness Naturopathic Centre.
Wellness Naturopathic Centre, North Vancouver, BC
The information on this website is for education purposes only. It does not substitute for proper assessment and treatment by a licensed health care provider.