Vitamin D has become a heavy hitter in the health & nutrition community. It has ironically become the most heavily studied vitamin in recent years, while reports of deficiencies are also on the rise. It is estimated that a whopping 46% of the US population is Vitamin D deficient. This rising number of reported cases of deficiency, may be thanks in part to better screenings, better education on the importance of sun protection, and limited dietary sources of the vitamin.
Vitamin D is a unique fat-soluble vitamin. Our bodies can actually make vitamin D in the skin when exposed to the sun. We can also store it for later use, which is not true for most vitamins (other exceptions include Vitamins A, E, and K). Vitamin D behaves like a hormone in our body, controlling the way some of our cells work.
Vitamin D and its Impact on Health
We now have a better understanding of the health risks associated with low levels of Vitamin D. It has been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, falls, and fractures in the elderly population. Additionally, some research is associating low Vitamin D levels with a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and autoimmune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis. On the flip side, it appears that getting plenty of Vitamin D can have positive impacts, including:
- Lower risk of osteoporosis, falls, and fractures.
- Increased muscular strength in the upper and lower limbs.
- Mild reduction in depression symptoms in those suffering from clinical depression.
- Improved management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- Reduced risk of cancers, including colon, breast, ovarian, kidney, pancreatic, prostate, and others.
Sources of Vitamin D
The absolute best source of Vitamin D is sun exposure. Exposing a large area of skin without sunscreen for just about fifteen minutes on a sunny day is enough to get a good dose of D. (Make sure to apply sunscreen after those first few minutes to avoid the dangers of unprotected rays). Foods are another natural source of Vitamin D, including cod liver oil, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, beef liver, egg yolks, and sardines (canned in oil). Certain foods are fortified with supplemental Vitamin D, most commonly milk and breakfast cereals, which helps us reach our daily goals. If your physician recommends adding extra Vitamin D to your diet, commercial supplements are also very easy to find and inexpensive. Be sure to choose the active D3 form and take only the amount your physician instructs.