A vitamin D deficiency occurs when a person follows a strict vegan diet, avoids sunlight or shuns milk due to milk allergies. Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because it is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight. In addition to sunlight, vitamin D can be found in fish, egg yolks, fortified dairy products and fortified grains. This vitamin helps protect against a variety of illnesses and diseases, including the flu, cancer and osteoporosis.
- Where Can You Get Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not a true vitamin as it is synthesized in the skin in response to sunlight exposure. A Caucasian adult will produce 20,000 IU of vitamin D when sitting in the sun in a bathing suit long enough to produce a pink tint that lasts for 24 hours. Wintertime, when the amount of ultraviolet light is reduced and topical sunscreens can cause vitamin D deficiencies. Topical sunscreens can block 97 to 100 percent of vitamin D production. Sunscreens prevent the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3.
Only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D.
These foods include:
- Fish, including herring, mackerel and salmon
- Butter and cream
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods such as — milk, fortified orange juice, and fortified grains.
When vitamin D rich foods and supplements are ingested the liver and the kidneys synthesize the vitamin D into an active form of the vitamin. The hepatocytes (liver cells) transport usable vitamin D to the blood via chylomicrons. As vitamin D is transported throughout the body, it is taken up by the fat, muscles, teeth and bones.
Vitamin D helps the body proficiently by:
- Use calcium to strengthen and protect the bones and the teeth, which can help protect against osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.Vitamin D has been found to protect against a host of other health problems.
- Vitamin D supports immune function
- Quells inflammation and helps fight cancer.
Because of the numerous important roles of vitamin D, a vitamin D deficiency can be potentially devastating to a person.
- Immunity and Vitamin D
Every immune cell in the body contains vitamin D receptor. Immune cells are responsible for killing deadly viruses and bacteria. In order for these killer cells to be activated, vitamin D must be available. A recent paper offered persuasive evidence that seasonal infections, such as the flu, may actually be caused by decreased vitamin D levels. Conventional wisdom has thought that viral activity increases in the wintertime; however, with this new information, researchers are beginning to see how vital vitamin D is to immunity.
In addition to this paper, two randomized trials have found that higher doses of vitamin D reduced the incidence of influenza. In one study in New York, African-American postmenopausal women were given either 800 IU/d or 2,000 IU/d of vitamin D3. Those taking the 800 IU/d experienced a 60 percent reduction in colds and the flu while those taking the higher dosage had a reduced risk of 90 percent.
In Japan, a similar study was done involving school children. The children were given 1200 IU/d of vitamin D3. The risk of Type A influenza was reduced by 67 percent; however, there was no reduction in risk for Type B influenza. Type A influenza includes H1N1 varieties, which are the type of influenzas that caused the 1918-1919 pandemic influenza and the 2009 swine flu.
An observational study found that vitamin D protects against influenza when vitamin D levels in the blood are more than 38 ng/mL (95 nmol/L).
- What Therapeutic Benefits Does Vitamin D Offer?
Patients suffering from chronic tension headaches often have a vitamin D deficiency. When a deficiency is the cause of a headache, sufferers do not respond to conventional therapies. In addition to chronic tension headaches, migraines may result from a vitamin D deficiency. According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical center, a large number of migraine sufferers tend to have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation may help lower the incidence of tension headaches and migraines.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin D plays a role in ovarian development. Polycystic ovary syndrome is the primary cause of ovarian dysfunction in women. Sixty-seven to eighty-five percent of women with polycystic ovarian disease have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation can help to regulate menstruation and ovulation in PCOS sufferers. Vitamin D supplementation also helps protect against pre-term labor.
A study published in the European Journal of General Practices state that vitamin D supplementation may help reduce musculoskeletal pain. Supplementation may help improve the quality of life in patients suffering from fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Finally, vitamin D can help correct with a number of inflammatory conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, autoimmune disease and Crohn’s disease. Vitamin D inhibits inflammation in the body. When a vitamin D deficiency occurs, it can cause a cascade effect throughout the body. When vitamin D is given, it binds to DNA and interferes with the inflammatory process, thus providing relief and protection against inflammatory conditions.
Vitamin D place a vital role in brain health. It provides antioxidant protection to the brain, regulates calcium levels, rids the body of toxins and enhances nerve conduction in the brain and body. Vitamin D supplementation may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease, depression and epilepsy.
Season Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a depression that is experienced during the wintertime when sunlight is decreased. Approximately 20 percent of Americans suffer from this disorder. Full spectrum light bulbs, as well as vitamin D supplementation, may help relieve the depression associated with SAD.
- Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention
Research suggests that vitamin D may help prevent and provide therapeutic benefits for a variety of cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, rectal cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer and cancers of the head and neck.
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies have shown that those living in the southern latitudes of the United States had a lower incident and death rate of certain cancers than those in northern latitude states. They believe this is due to variations in vitamin D levels. Other studies suggested that vitamin D may slow or prevent the development of cancer and stimulate cancer cell death.
Vitamin D is essential for good health and the prevention of a number of illnesses and disease. Vitamin D deficiency occurs when people are not exposed to enough sunlight, avoid eating vitamin D rich foods or live in northern climates where sunlight is not as strong. Vitamin D supplementation through sunlight, vitamin D rich foods, supplements and full spectrum light bulbs is one of the best defenses you can have when it comes to illness and disease.
About Elizabeth McMillan
Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS is a board certified nutritionist at Rose Wellness Center in Northern Virginia. She believes in finding the root cause of aliments and focuses on preventive health and optimizing one’s wellness. Elizabeth specializes in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal health, autoimmunity, hormone imbalances in men and women, and other metabolic complications
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