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Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

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?

7 Surprising Benefits of Vitamin D

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.

4. Depression
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.

6. Flu
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.

7. Osteoporosis
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.

Combating Deficiencies

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.

Christy Zagarella's Photo
Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on April 16, 2013. Updated on May 14, 2019.


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