7 Surprising Benefits of Vitamin D
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is largely known for its role in bone health. But as evidence unfolds, research now speculates vitamin D aids in much more than strengthening bones. So what exactly is vitamin D and its surprising benefits?
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the four fat soluble vitamins, meaning the vitamins require available fat to be efficiently absorbed and stored in the body's tissues. Uniquely, skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Food sources (detailed below) include beef, egg yolks, and fish along with common fortified products such as milk and orange juice. Adequate vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, allowing the minerals to strengthen bones and teeth. And when taking a deeper look at vitamin D, its value unfolds to more extensive roles.
Vitamin D Benefits
The surprising benefits of vitamin D are mostly related to its nutritional deficiency. When vitamin D is lacking, it may surface various conditions and if sufficient in the diet and body, it may prevent or reduce:
1. High Blood Pressure
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure has been shown to increase in individuals with low intakes of vitamin D. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency raises the likelihood of hypertension consequences.
2. Heart Failure
Research has linked vitamin D to congestive heart failure (CHF), or simply heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to effectively pump blood throughout the body. Studies show individuals with CHF have lower vitamin D levels and an increased risk of death. Find more on the connection here.
3. Cancer Spreading
Specifically, in women diagnosed with breast cancer, low vitamin D increases the risk of the cancer spreading (or metastasizing) to various parts of the body, along with a greater chance of dying to the disease.
Studies suggest a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression in older adults, mostly thought to be correlated to the vitamin D receptors found in the brain. Valuably, research found taking a vitamin D supplement can improve or prevent depression.
5. Weight Gain
In context of post-menopausal women, evidence has shown taking both a vitamin D and calcium supplement can slow the rate of weight gain. Further research is encouraged to explore weight loss across the board.
Vitamin D helps protect the body by fostering a strong immune system, fighting off bacteria and viruses. Low levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of contracting the flu or becoming immunocompromised.
Though not too surprising, reducing the risk of osteoporosis (or bone loss) is extremely respected. High levels of vitamin D is critical in populations that are undergoing critical development stages or prone to bone loss, including children, menopausal women, and older adults.
Find more information regarding the connections between vitamin D and conditions at the Vitamin D Council's Health Conditions page.
As just indicated, a vitamin D deficiency can play large roles in a wide variety of conditions. It is important to identify your risk of deficiency, as some individuals and conditions may be more susceptible than others. Such risk factors of vitamin D deficiency include individuals with dark-pigmented skin, overweight and obese individuals, females, older individuals, people residing in darker or cooler climate geographic locations, fat malabsorption, a sedentary lifestyle, and kidney disease. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily value (DV) of vitamin D for the average, healthy adult is 600 International Units (IU) or 15 micrograms (mcg) per day. To obtain the recommended IU or DV of vitamin D through sun exposure, individuals need 10 to 15 minutes of direct sun two to three times each week. The following food items are also rich in vitamin D:
• Milk, fortified (1 cup or 8-ounces): 2.5 mcg or 100 IU
• Egg yolk (1 large): 0.6 mcg or 25 IU
• Cereal, fortified (1 cup): 1 mcg or 40 IU
*dependent on cereal brand and kind
• Orange juice, fortified (3/4 cup): 1.9 mcg or 75 IU
• Salmon (3-ounces): 8 mcg or 320 IU
• Sardines (3-ounces): 6 mcg or 240 IU
If unable to obtain enough vitamin D through the diet or sun exposure, you may be prescribed to a vitamin D supplement. And though overdosing on vitamin D is mostly rare, checking with your doctor can reduce the risk of toxicity and tailor dosage best to your needs. Especially since vitamin D is available through sunlight, food, and in supplement form, the best way to measure vitamin D levels is through blood withdrawal. In general, a level of 50 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) is adequate, but reliant on various factors.