Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
Updated: Feb 17
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, has been credited with boosting immunity, protecting against infections, strong bones, and boosting our moods. In today’s blog, Super Bio Boost explores if the sunshine vitamin is really all it’s cracked up to be. One of the unique facts about vitamin D is that is considered a hormone rather than a vitamin. Our bodies have receptors for this among multiple organs.
Where do we get our vitamin D from?
Most people associate Vitamin D with sun exposure, hence why it’s known as the sunshine vitamin. Production of vitamin D is stimulate by sun exposure on the skin. We can also get our vitamin D from our diet; oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), cod liver oil, egg yolks, portabella mushrooms, beef liver, and fortified foods (milk and non-dairy milk, orange juice, cheese).
What does vitamin D do?
Vitamin D plays a vital part in bone health as well as other processes such as cell growth, immune system function and neuromuscular function. Vitamin D is also involved in processes that reduce inflammation in the body. Vitamin D’s main function in the body is in regulating the amount of calcium in the body including through bone formation.
Due to such a wide variety of organs having vitamin D receptors, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a wide range of illnesses including different types of cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. There is also some evidence that suggests low vitamin D may be associated with infertility or difficulties conceiving.
Low vitamin D levels can be caused by insufficient sun exposure and chronic illnesses. We know that when Vitamin D is low, it can lead to bone diseases such as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults.
What causes low vitamin D levels?
Previously vitamin D deficiency was commonly caused by poor nutrition but with the fortification of food with vitamin D, severe vitamin D deficiency due to malnutrition has significantly reduced. Reduced sun exposure such as during colder months can reduce our vitamin D levels. The body’s ability to absorb vitamin D also decreases as we age.
How much vitamin D am I supposed to have?
The current recommended level of vitamin D is 1500 – 2000 international units (IU) per day for adults and 1000 international units (IU) per day for children. You can check the vitamin D content of foods and supplements by reading the nutrition label in the ‘essential vitamins and minerals’ section. Fortified foods will also state on the label if vitamin D has been added.
Vitamin D and Wellness:
There has been some evidence linking low vitamin D levels with several types of cancer including breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Experiments using animal models show that vitamin D deficiency, in addition to exposure to cancer causing agents, increases the risk of developing cancer. A few studies have shown normal vitamin D levels may give some level of protection against the formation of cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to negatively affect people with respiratory conditions including asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). In asthma patients with low vitamin D, lung tissues had higher levels of inflammation and there was less response to treatment with steroids. The benefit of vitamin D for respiratory conditions has been noted for centuries particularly in treatment of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis hospitals often contained rooms with large windows or patients were prescribed hours of sun exposure as this seemed to improve their condition. Later is was confirmed that vitamin D has a similar effect as an antibiotic against the bug that causes tuberculosis.
Vitamin D co-therapy has been shown to improve the treatment response in patients with severe tuberculosis. There is also some evidence that vitamin D helps reduce the risk of developing the flu in postmenopausal black women.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, vitamin D was believed to offer some protection against the virus as well as helping to reduce the severity of symptoms. Elderly people and those with chronic illnesses are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and also are more susceptible to infections. Despite early studies showing that low vitamin D was associated with increased risk of COVID-19, it was later proven that this associated was not statistically significant. Similarly, vitamin D supplements seemed to offer some protection against COVID-19 but did not impact the severity of symptoms.
There appears to be a higher incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in people with low vitamin D levels. This this is thought to be due to vitamin D’s role in regulating the body’s immune response. Some experiments have shown that the risk of developing diabetes can reduce with the correction of vitamin D deficiency however, as there are multiple factors that can lead to type 1 or type 2 diabetes, vitamin D on its own does not cure diabetes or reverse the effects of diabetes on the body.
Heart disease and high blood pressure
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with heart disease and stiffening of blood vessels. There has also been evidence that low vitamin D levels can lead to increased risk of cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. This narrows the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. One study demonstrated a potential protection against high blood pressure in pregnancy with vitamin D and calcium supplementation.
Vitamin D receptors have been found in the ovaries and uterus, the organs of the female reproductive system, and vitamin D may help with symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. There is ongoing research to find out exactly how vitamin D helps with these conditions. In men, current evidence shows that both high and low vitamin D levels have a negative effect on sperm. This includes reduced sperm count, malfunctions in sperm movement, and development of abnormal sperm. If you want nice healthy, bouncy babies, keep an eye on your vitamin D levels.
During the colder months, reduced sun exposure can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, commonly known as ‘winter depression’. This is thought to be partly caused by the decreased level of vitamin D from sun exposure. Now, lack of sun exposure in and of itself can lead to SAD due to the effect on the circadian rhythm however, evidence shows that vitamin D supplementation can lead to improved mood, sleep, and memory.
The bottom line
Vitamin D is important for a number of functions that allow our body to work properly. Low vitamin D levels can cause problems with bone health, respiratory disease, and autoimmune function as well as making us more susceptible to some infections. Vitamin D supplements, while not a cure all for every ailment, have been shown to help with mood, bone health, and providing some protection against cancer and infertility. Vitamin D supplements do not necessarily have much benefit in people who have a normal vitamin D level.
Where do we go from here?
If you are unsure of your vitamin D levels or feel that you may have symptoms associated with low vitamin D, speak to your doctor about testing your vitamin D levels. You can also check the foods you buy for their vitamin D content and track your vitamin D intake for a day to see how you’re doing. As winter rolls on, be mindful of your sun exposure and spend some time outside if the weather is reasonable.
Making changes for a healthy lifestyle begins with one small step and Hoffi powder can help.
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