Vitamin D: How important is it for your health?
Did you know that vitamin D is not an essential nutrient? You need not consume vitamin D rich foods as your body can produce the adequate amounts all by itself. How do you ask? Well, it’s because of sunlight. So why do people take vitamin D supplements? Why is vitamin D deficiency even a thing? Read on to find out!
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is either produced in the body or obtained directly from foods. It is biologically inactive and thus our body metabolizes the vitamin into its active form. It is of two forms – vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol and vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.
So how is it produced in the body?
Our body synthesizes Vitamin D or calciferol with the help of sunlight from a precursor called 7-dehydrocholesterol that the body makes in the liver from cholesterol. This manufactured (or obtained from food) vitamin D is the inactive form which undergoes some reactions before the vitamin becomes fully active. The active form of vitamin D3 has several important roles in our body.
Roles of vitamin D in the body
Let’s have a look at the health benefits of the vitamin!
Absorption of minerals
It helps in the absorption of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium by increasing their blood concentration levels. It also enhances the absorption of these minerals from the gastrointestinal tract and reabsorption by the kidneys. Additionally, it helps in the mobilization of these minerals from the bones into the blood.
Vitamin D has an important role in maintaining good bone health. This is because it helps to maintain the optimal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, thus facilitating the absorption and deposition of these minerals in the bones.
It has a significant role in protecting against several diseases like cardiovascular disorders, multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes, musculoskeletal pains, tuberculosis, gum inflammation and also cancer.
Vitamin D deficiency
For many people, the body’s vitamin D production from sunlight is inadequate. This can be due to a variety of factors including reduced outdoor activities, environmental factors like air pollution (blocking ultraviolet B radiation), use of sunscreens, clothing, geographic location etc. All of these factors can contribute to several deficiency disorders. Vitamin D deficiency creates a calcium deficiency in the body and causes several chronic diseases.
Osteoporosis occurs due to reduced bone density as a result of vitamin D deficiency in the body. Inadequate levels of the vitamin in the body lead to the erosion of calcium from the bones. This results in weak bones which are highly susceptible to fracture.
Osteomalacia or rickets(for children) is the softening of the bones as a result of impaired bone health caused due to inadequate levels of phosphate and calcium in the bones. Symptoms include body pains, muscle pains and increasingly fragile bones. Osteomalacia (known as rickets in children), causes growth retardation and skeletal abnormalities like bending of bones.
We should include vitamin rich foods in our diet or consume supplements to protect ourselves against these chronic disorders. Moreover, this is also necessary to have a well-balanced healthy diet. The daily recommended intake may be insufficient for some individuals and some researches also show numerous health benefits on higher intakes.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in older people due to the weakened functionality of the liver, kidneys and the skin that affects the efficent production and activation of the vitamin. Moreover, many elderly people spend their times indoors and hence get inadequate sun exposure. Thus, it is especially important for them to have vitamin D rich foods or take vitamin supplements.
Vitamin D is important for our health but both inadequacies and an excess of this vitamin can impact the human body adversely. However, excess consumption can increase the concentration of blood calcium. Excess blood calcium precipitates in soft tissues like the kidneys and forms stones. It can also harden the blood vessels causing a variety of complications.
Foods rich in vitamin D includes fatty fish, fish liver oil, egg yolk, fortified milk and cereals. There is often a insufficiency for vegetarians due to the low content of vitamin D in plant-based food sources. A glass or two of milk daily can suffice for the insufficiency.
In prolonged deficiency, consult your dietician to help you include vitamin supplements or fortified foods in the diet.
Even though sunlight is the major source of vitamin D, the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) are set on the basis of minimal sun exposure. The RDA for people aged between 1-70 years of age is 15 micrograms per day.