When exposed to sunlight, your skin produces a nutrient called vitamin D, sometimes referred to as “sunshine vitamin.” It is a fat-soluble vitamin in a family of compounds that includes vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3. Vitamin D helps regulate the minerals calcium and phosphorus found in the body. It also plays an essential role in keeping proper bone structure.
Basking under the sun is one of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of this nutrient. Exposing your face, hands, arms, and legs to the sun for two to three times a week for about one-fourth of the time it would for you to feel a mild sunburn is considered enough.
The time to spend under the sun varies with skin type, age, time of day, season, etc. Just six days of casual stroll outdoors without sunblock can cover for 49 days of no sunlight exposure. Your body fat acts as a battery, storing vitamin D during periods of exposure, then releasing it when sunlight is gone.
You can also get it through certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna are excellent sources of vitamin D. Cod liver oil, oysters, shrimp, and egg yolks are nutritious options that can help meet your body’s daily vitamin D requirement.
Since more people are wearing sunscreen and spend most of their time indoors, vitamin D is becoming has become ever so prevalent. This poses various health risks. In fact, there is evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to over 200 diseases. Not many people realize that this nutrient affects the brain, body, and overall health. It has a role to play in maintaining the following:
- Bones – It is well documented that vitamin D is essential for the proper absorption of calcium. Studies show that it helps reduce fracture in two ways. One, it aids with the formation of stronger bones; second, it enhances muscle contraction to prevent falls and improve balance.
- Lungs – Vitamin D has a range of anti-inflammatory properties, which help the lungs stay healthy. It appears capable of inhibiting pulmonary inflammatory responses while boosting the body’s innate defense mechanisms against respiratory pathogens.
- Muscles – This nutrient creates byproducts upon its breakdown. One of these, the 1,25(OH)2D, enters muscle cells to improve their contraction ability. Since muscles work by relaxation and contraction, vitamin D, in a way, strengthens the muscles directly.
- Immunity – Vitamin D has receptors all over the body, including the immune cells. Mounting evidence proves that vitamin D deficiency is part of the seasonal nature of cold and flu outbreaks. When there is less sunlight, people get less vitamin D, which weakens their immune system.
- Kidneys – Chronic kidney disease is an emerging public health problem and one of the most powerful predictors of premature cardiovascular illness. Reports show that patients with related diseases have an exceptionally high rate of severe vitamin D deficiency. It is apparent that this nutrient is crucial for promoting healthy kidneys.
- Heart – Studies have demonstrated an inverse relationship between high blood pressure and vitamin D levels in the blood. In other words, having higher blood pressure means you might be lacking the sunshine vitamin. The resulting damage and excess strain from high blood pressure cause the coronary arteries of the heart to slowly harden and narrow, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Mood – Technically a hormone, vitamin D is critical to taking care of your mental health. Research has shown the way this nutrient regulates mood and wards off depression. In one case, scientists found that people suffering from depression noticed an improvement in their symptoms after receiving vitamin D supplements. In another study, researchers found that the lack of the sunshine vitamin is common among people experiencing anxiety disorders.
- Cognitive Function – In recent time, scientists have seen a link between the shortage of vitamin D and cognitive impairment in older adults. According to research, this nutrient has a variety of neuroprotective roles, including the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Beware Of D-ficiency
Many Americans are not getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D. Even the amount you get when you go out in the sun can be affected by several factors, including:
- Using sunscreen
- Living in big cities where tall buildings block sunlight
- Being in an area with high pollution
- Having darker skin (the body absorbs less vitamin D because of the high levels of melanin in the skin)
- Spending more time indoors
All of these contribute to the shortage of vitamin D in an increasing number of people. To make up for this, doctors often recommend vitamin D supplements and other food sources. Here are symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency in adults:
- Stress fractures, especially in the hips, pelvis, and legs
- Aches, tiredness, pains, and a general sense of not feeling well
- Severe muscle or bone pain, being easily fatigued from normal tasks such as getting up from the floor or climbing stairs, unstable walking
A simple blood test can help diagnose this condition. If you have a deficiency, your doctor may order X-rays to inspect the strength of your bones. Once you are diagnosed, you will likely have to take supplements. A severe deficiency may require high-dose vitamin D liquids or tablets.
When it comes to health, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The same goes for vitamin D. Excessive doses can lead to stomach pain, diarrhea, or constipation. Other common symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and poor appetite. Megadoses of this vitamin can result in more severe cases such as bone loss, kidney failure, and tuberculosis.
Despite the fact that more people are now taking supplements, it’s still quite rare to find someone with extremely high blood levels of this vitamin. To avoid accidental overdosing, be sure to ask your doctor about the recommended dose based on your age and condition.
Vitamin D is an important nutrient for your physical and mental wellbeing. Get enough of this vitamin to ensure normal growth and development of your teeth and bones, as well as improve your resistance against certain diseases.