Cholecalciferol or vitamin D3, is one of the most important tools for improving overall health. It is derived from 7-dehydrocholesterol; however, it acquires hormone like actions when it is converted to calcitriol by the kidneys and liver. Calcitriol controls calcium, phosphorous and bone metabolism, and neuromuscular function. Vitamin D3 is also the only vitamin that the body is capable of manufacturing from sunlight. Although scientists have known of the vitamin's role in maintaining bone health, recent research has shown that the deficiency of the vitamin is linked to a number of other health conditions like back pain, depression, cancer, insulin resistance and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, macular degeneration, and impaired immunity.
How does vitamin D3 deficiency affect you?
• Depression – Vitamin D3 deficiency is quite common in older adults and has been implicated in neurological and psychiatric disorders . For instance, in a study involving 80 older adults (half of them with mild Alzheimer's and half non-demented), vitamin D3 deficiency was linked to low mood and impairment in cognitive performance.
• Back pain – Musculoskeletal disorders have been linked to vitamin D3 deficiency in many studies. One of the most recent studies explored the role of low levels of D3 in the development of chronic back pain in women . The study revealed that patients who had lower back pain had significantly lower levels of vitamin D3 than the control subjects.
• Bone health – Vitamin D3 is known for improving the bone health and health of the musculoskeletal system. Deficiency causes osteopenia, precipitates and worsens osteoporosis, causes osteomalacia, and exacerbates muscle weakness increasing the risk of fractures and falls. Insufficiency may also change the regulatory mechanisms of the parathyroid hormone and cause a secondary hyperparathyroidism, which increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis .
• Cognitive enhancement – Vitamin D3 also has the ability to increase cognition. In one of the recent studies, subjects who were deficient in vitamin D3 fared much worse on mental function tests compared to the subjects who had higher levels of the vitamin. The researchers concluded that there is a positive correlation between the blood serum levels of vitamin D3 and the mental state examination scores .
• Other conditions – Deficiency has also been linked to a number of other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and an increased risk of insulin resistance and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy . Low levels of vitamin D3 have also been linked to increased incidence of age-related macular degeneration .
A number of researchers who have spent their time researching this vitamin have been begging the public to consume more of it. Due to the high safety profile of the vitamin even in excessive doses and because of the important role it plays in the health, vitamin supplements are ideal to supplement.
Are You Getting Your Dose of Vitamin D?
One of the most commonly known facts about Vitamin D is that our skin cells can produce it from sunlight. It also happens to be one of the most widely researched nutrients, and recent studies have expanded the protective effects of this vitamin to many more systems of the body.
There is a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, and approximately 30 percent to 50 percent of the population reports this deficiency.
Who is at a risk of vitamin D deficiency?
The risk of vitamin D deficiency in darker skinned individuals is higher than that in their light-skinned counterparts. That's because a light-skinned person may require about 45 minutes of sunlight a week to get adequate vitamin D, while a dark-skinned individual may have to spend up to three hours in the sun to get sufficient amounts of the vitamin. Studies have found a higher level of vitamin D deficiency in African-American women of child-bearing age, in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts.
Longer periods of winter hinder your body's availability of vitamin D from natural sunlight. Studies have also shown that sunscreen may affect vitamin D production in the skin.
Why is vitamin D important for the body?
Vitamin D deficiency in children can soften and weaken their bones in a condition known as rickets. In adults, inadequate vitamin D levels have been associated with high blood pressure, prostate cancer, colon and breast cancer, obesity and depression. Evidence suggests that people with adequate levels of vitamin D are less likely to develop these diseases than those with deficient amounts of the vitamin.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone metabolism, and help in building strong bones. In older adults, it safeguards against softening of the bones (osteomalacia). Insufficient levels of the vitamin are linked to a higher risk of falling among the senior population.
Vitamin D also helps control blood sugar; there is a greater risk of diabetes and high blood sugar in individuals with low vitamin D levels.
As one of the hormones assisting the maturation of white blood cells, vitamin D also protects your body against a number of infections.
What are the chief sources of Vitamin D?
Cod liver oil is the best source of vitamin D, but it also contains a high level of vitamin A, which can lead to toxicity over time. So, consult with your physician prior to taking cod liver oil supplements.
Food sources rich in vitamin D include fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring and sardines; eggs; and fortified whole milks and cereal. In the United States and UK, milk, bread and other food products are fortified with vitamin D at various levels.
Vitamin D is a common component in many multivitamins. It is also sold separately in liquid, tablet and softgel form.
In summary :
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. Dark-skinned individuals and those receiving very less natural sunlight in the winter may have lower levels of the vitamin in their body.
Vitamin D is important for preserving bone health, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, and strengthening the body's immunity.
Vitamin D can safely be taken through supplements.