Vitamin D is often associated with being “the sunshine vitamin”, and be found in many of the foods we eat. Although it is mostly known for its part in our bone health, it also plays a significant role in many processes, including aging and immunity. What else does this vitamin do, and why is it so important for our health?
What exactly is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is different from other vitamins – trace nutrients that must be ingested through the diet – because it is a steroid hormone produced by the body. This synthesis takes place in a stepwise manner following exposure to ultraviolet B light and heat.
Among the five forms of vitamin D (called vitamers), vitamin D2 and D3 are best known for their health benefits.
What contributes to vitamin D deficiency
It’s surprising to note that approximately 40 percent of people in the United States are vitamin D deficient. There are modifiable and non-modifiable factors contributing to increased risks for vitamin D deficiency; dark-skinned people, such as those of African or Hispanic descent, and those who smoke, are obese or have diabetes are at greater risk for deficiency. Conditions such as celiac disease and gastric bypass, which impair intestinal absorption of vitamin D, may also contribute to vitamin D deficiency. The enzymatic hydroxylation of vitamin D precursors in the liver and kidneys puts people with chronic liver or kidney disease at high risk for vitamin D deficiency. Many medications also inactivate vitamin D.
Some modifiable factors that contribute to vitamin D deficiency are:
- A diet low on good vitamin D sources such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and some fortified foods, such as some cereal.
- Taking certain drugs or too high of a dose of other supplements.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
Symptoms of vitamin deficiency are typically subtle, so most people are unaware of their deficiency. Even if they significantly affect your life, you may not notice them quickly. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Vitamin D affects immune function. An increased risk of illness or infection is one of the most common symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency.
- Surgical, injury, and infection wounds may not heal well with insufficient vitamin D.
- Low vitamin D levels may contribute to or cause bone pain and lower back pain.
- Low bone density may indicate a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is essential for preserving bone mass as you get older.
- A vitamin D deficiency can cause excessive fatigue and tiredness. You may be able to improve your energy levels by taking supplements.
- If you are experiencing female-pattern hair loss or alopecia areata, it may result from vitamin D deficiency.
- Vitamin D deficiency is linked with depression, and many studies have shown that supplementation can improve mood.
- Chronic pain is associated with low vitamin D levels, which may result from the interaction between the vitamin and pain-sensing nerve cells.
Foods rich in vitamin D
Looking to enrich your vitamin D intake? Here are some excellent, natural sources of vitamin D:
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
- Canned tuna
- Fortified food such as milk, orange juice and oatmeal.
The sunshine vitamin
Have you heard that the best source of vitamin D is stepping outside for a bit of sunshine? Well, that’s true! The skin creates vitamin D from cholesterol when exposed to sunlight. In the skin cells, ultraviolet B (UVB) rays stimulate vitamin D synthesis by impacting cholesterol.
You should spend at least 10–30 minutes in the sun several times per week to maintain healthy blood levels. The amount needed may be slightly higher for those with darker skin. Your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight will determine the amount of sun exposure time you need.
Nutritional services in Orlando, FL
At Optimum Direct Care, we believe that a healthy diet is the cornerstone of lifelong wellness and offer unlimited nutritional services to our direct primary care practice members in Orlando, Florida.