Vitamin D is sometimes known as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body can create it when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
You can also obtain Vitamin D from a number of different foods.
One of the most interesting things about Vitamin D is, despite its name, it’s not a true vitamin at all.
It’s a prohormone. Vitamins have to be obtained from food or by the use of supplements and injections.
The body cannot create them, but it can create Vitamin D.
Exposing the skin to the sun for just five to ten minutes per day, two to three times per week, should allow most people to manufacture all the Vitamin D their body needs.
Sometimes stores can deplete quite fast, especially during the winter months when there is not a lot of sun to be seen.
The use of sunscreen may also reduce levels of Vitamin D.
Although protecting the skin with sunscreen is a sensible health precaution, it’s ability to block UVB rays can interfere with the body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D.
The authors of one study have speculated the use of sunscreen may reduce Vitamin D production by as much as 99 percent, but not all experts agree.
It has been argued many people do not apply a sufficiently thick application of sunscreen to cause problems, while other people only use it some of the time.
However, be it due to climatic conditions, use of sunscreen, or a bad diet, a substantial percentage of the world’s population is deficient in Vitamin D.
Vitamin D and Obesity
There is known to be a link between Vitamin D deficiency and obesity but experts appear to be unable to agree which one causes the other.
The consensus of opinion always used to be lack of Vitamin D can lead to weight gain.
However, research conducted in 2013 suggests things may be the other way around.
The researchers discovered every unit increase in BMI (1kg/m2) was accompanied by a 1.15% reduction of vitamin D levels in the blood.
The researches believe this could be due to Vitamin D becoming trapped inside the body fat, causing less to be picked up by the blood and circulated around the body.
More Than Just “a” Vitamin
There are several forms of Vitamin D. Each has a slightly different chemical composition.
The two most important ones are Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). The name “Vitamin D” is a blanket term that refers to either one individually or a combination of both.
A combination of Vitamin D2 and D3 is also known as calciferol.
When the sun makes contact with the skin it reacts with the cholesterol it finds there and converts it to vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 cannot be manufactured in this way. Foods and supplements can provide both Vitamin B2 and Vitamin D3.
A Look at Some Vitamin D Benefits
Vitamin D benefits the body in many different ways and plays an important role in providing strong bones, but it does not achieve this alone.
Strong bones are dependent on calcium. Vitamin D assists the absorption of calcium in the intestines and reclaims calcium that would normally be filtered out of the body via the kidneys.
So, if you want to have strong bones, be sure to get enough calcium and Vitamin D3.
This list is not conclusive, but other benefits provided by Vitamin D include:
- Reduces the risk of diabetes
- Boosts the immune system
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis (in women)
Good Sources of Vitamin D
The options when looking for foods that are good sources of Vitamin D are quite limited.
This is probably one of the reasons Vitamin D deficiency has become so common.
Some good options are:
- Cod liver oil
- Beef liver
- Fortified milk and cereals
Although it is possible the figures may be amended in the future, guidelines provided by the US Institutes of Medicine (in 2010) state the recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin D is:
- Infants 0-12 months: 10mcg
- Children 1-18 years: 15mcg
- Adults aged 19-70 years: 15mcg
- Adults over the age of 70: 20mcg
- Pregnant or lactating women:15mcg
What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D
Other health problems that can result from a lack of Vitamin D include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Chronic pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Autoimmune diseases
What Happens If You Get Too Much Vitamin D
Overconsumption of Vitamin D causes a condition known as hypervitaminosis D.
It causes a calcium buildup in the blood. During the initial stages, the main symptoms are likely to include weakness, vomiting, and a frequent need to urinate.
If allowed to persist, hypervitaminosis D can also cause bone pain, kidney stones, and other kidney problems.
It would be extremely difficult to get hypervitaminosis D by eating a lot of Vitamin D rich food or sitting too long in the sun. It’s a condition that’s more likely to occur due to the overuse of supplements.
The fact that so many people are deficient in Vitamin D shows how easy it is to fall victim to this problem and there could be a lot to be said for taking Vitamin D in supplement form.
However, it’s always preferable to meet your vitamin requirements with food rather than supplements and, in the case of Vitamin D, a little sun every now and again is highly recommended (climate permitting).
If you are worried you may not be getting enough Vitamin D and think you may need to use a supplement, the best course of action is do book an appointment with your doctor.
Apart from being able to provide expert advice, doctors can also perform tests that will reveal any dietary deficiencies or underlying conditions that may be affecting your health.