By: Dr. Magdy Badran
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because your body can produce it when your skin is exposed to the sun. Your skin hosts a type of cholesterol that functions as a precursor to vitamin D. When this compound is exposed to UV-B radiation from the sun, it becomes vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It also plays many other important roles in the body, including regulating inflammation and immune function. Despite its name, vitamin D is not a vitamin but a hormone or prohormone.
Roles of Vitamin D in The Body
Vitamin D plays a critical role in many bodily functions. Vitamin D promotes intestinal calcium absorption and helps maintain adequate blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which is necessary for healthy bone mineralization. Of all the minerals found in the body, calcium is the most abundant. The majority of this mineral lies in the skeletal bones and the teeth.
Getting enough vitamin D may help prevent hyperparathyroidism. This is a condition in which excess of the parathyroid hormone in the bloodstream may lead to osteoporosis, joint pain, and other issues.
An adequate intake of vitamin D may support good immune function and reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps to promote a proper response to infectious pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and fungus, that are responsible for various types of illnesses, including the common cold, influenza, and similar community-wide diseases.
It may improve brain function. Vitamin D benefits you by playing a role in activating and deactivating the synthesis of neurotransmitters, as well as nerve growth and repair. Vitamin D helps to protect neurons and can reduce inflammation within the brain. Vitamin D improves mental acuity. Vitamin D benefits the daily mood, especially in the colder, darker months. Decreased levels of Vitamin D3 may impact the levels of serotonin in the brain, a hormone that regulates the mood.
There is a link between Vitamin D deficiency, the body’s resistance to insulin, and type 2 diabetes. By overcoming insulin resistance, you could potentially prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D can help lower blood pressure. It might reduce the risk of heart disease. It may play a role in weight loss and maintaining healthy body weight, this vitamin may also be able to prevent the adverse effects that are associated with obesity and high levels of body fat, including cardiovascular disease.
Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency
Although the body can create vitamin D, some people are more likely to be at risk of a deficiency than others. Factors that can influence this include:
• Skin color: Pigmentation in the skin reduces the body’s ability to absorb ultraviolet B rays from the sun.
• Lack of sun exposure: People who live in northern latitudes or areas of high pollution, work night shifts, or are homebound should aim to consume vitamin D from food sources whenever possible. During the winter months, the sun’s rays are not at the right wavelength to cause vitamin D synthesis in the skin no matter how sunny it may be on a given day.
• Older adults: The skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D decreases with age. Older adults may also spend more time indoors.
• Conditions that limit fat absorption can decrease vitamin D intake from the diet. This includes inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), celiac disease and other various inflammatory or malabsorption disorders.
• People with obesity: High levels of body fat can limit the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the skin.
• People following a gastric bypass: This surgery bypasses a part of the upper intestine that absorbs large amounts of vitamin D. This bypass can cause a deficiency.
• Certain medications may also cause the body to break down vitamin D before it can be used. Medications that may cause a vitamin D deficiency include antifungals, glucocorticoids, medications for HIV and anticonvulsants.
Vitamin D Deficiency- An Ignored Pandemic
Currently, the global prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic and considered as a public health concern in many regions around the world. About 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency. Yet no international health organization or governmental body has declared a health emergency to warn the public about the urgent need of achieving sufficient vitamin D blood levels.
Many studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked to impaired growth and development. Because vitamin D receptors are broadly distributed in tissues, vitamin D deficiency is associated with musculoskeletal disorders (osteoporosis), cardiovascular disorders, falls, fractures, autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and neuro-degenerative.
Vitamin D deficiency may even contribute to the development of cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing seventeen varieties of different cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and periodontal disease.
The prevalence of coronary heart disease, heart failure and peripheral artery disease increases significantly when the level of vitamin D decreases in the serum.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
People with mild to moderate deficiency may not have symptoms or their symptoms may be nonspecific and change over time.
Children with a mild vitamin deficiency may just have weak, sore and/or painful muscles. Severe lack of vitamin D in children causes rickets. Symptoms of rickets include incorrect growth patterns due to bowed or bent bones, muscle weakness, bone pain and deformities in joints.
Lack of vitamin D isn’t quite as obvious in adults. Signs and symptoms might include fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches or muscle cramps and mood changes, like depression. Those with a severe deficiency may have bone and muscle pain, hip pain, muscle weakness, problems during walking, climbing stairs, and getting out of a chair.
Vitamin D Deficiency Causes Hair Loss
Vitamin D stimulates hair follicles to grow, and so when the body does not have enough, the hair may be affected. Hair follicles are the tiny pores from which new hairs grow. New follicles may help hair maintain thickness and prevent existing hair from falling out prematurely. A vitamin D deficiency may also be linked to alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that causes patchy hair loss.
Tips to Boost Vitamin D Intake
Spend time in sunlight. People with darker skin need to spend more time in the sun to produce vitamin D than those with lighter skin.
Fatty fish and seafood are among the richest natural food sources of vitamin D. Eat mushrooms, like humans, mushrooms can make their own vitamin D upon exposure to UV light.
Include egg yolks in your diet. Eat fortified foods. Some commonly fortified goods are cow’s milk, plant-based milk alternatives like soy, almond, orange juice and ready-to-eat cereals.
For many people, taking a vitamin D supplement may be the best way to ensure adequate intake. Vitamin D exists in two main biological forms — D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). Typically, D2 comes from plants and D3 from animals. Research suggests that D3 may be significantly more effective at raising and maintaining overall vitamin D levels than D2, so look for a supplement with this form.