Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin,” as the body produces this all-important vitamin in response to exposure to sunlight. But these days, with all the concerns of skin cancer and the like, many folks choose to smother themselves in sunscreen before hitting the beach.
And while that’s probably a great idea for many good reasons, that sunscreen also blocks the positive effects of Vitamin D in the body. Let’s take a closer look at the reasons how Vitamin D could save your life.
This vital vitamin is actually a group of “fat-soluble secosteroids” (most importantly cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol, or Vitamin D3 and Vitamin D2, respectively) responsible for the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, which are important for humans to have the right balance of. A person with a Vitamin D deficiency will also be deficient in a whole range of other things, and not getting enough sunlight only makes matters worse.
Source of Vitamin D
For people living in colder climates, especially during the dark winter months, getting enough Vitamin D from the sun isn’t as natural as if they lived in in say, the tropics. Most medical professionals recommend spending roughly 15 minutes per day in the sunshine without sunscreen but when that’s not possible one needs to get their Vitamin D elsewhere. While milk and other types of dairy are fortified with Vitamin D, nothing beats natural sunlight.
Crucial for Moms
While Vitamin D is vital for all people, it’s even more important for expectant mothers. A lack of Vitamin D during pregnancy puts the mother at an increased risk of high blood pressure (known as preeclampsia), but also runs the risk of her baby being born premature and with low birth weight. Moms who are Vitamin D deficient are also far more likely to need to give birth via Caesarean delivery (commonly referred to as a “C-section”), which puts both mother and baby at a higher risk of infection.
Problems Come Later
For children born to mothers who had a Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, life can be a challenge in some cases. According to research, those kids are far more likely to develop asthma and other breathing disorders. This is because of the fact that the right levels of Vitamin D help the mother to build a strong immune system, which in turn is passed on to the child.
While autoimmune disorders in humans are on the rise lately, many feel that a lack of Vitamin D may be the main culprit. Many research papers have linked low Vitamin D levels with an increased risk of things like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. It’s all to do with receptors within the immune system, which enable it to do its job more efficiently.
Another main job of Vitamin D is keeping bones healthy and not brittle. “Vitamin D helps calcium do its job, and without it, our bones become brittle,” integrative medicine specialist David Friedman, ND, pointed out. “Two common bone diseases are caused by a lack of vitamin D: rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults). Both lead to diffuse body pains, muscle weakness, and fragile bones.” But what else is Vitamin D important for?
Another well-known ailment these days is breast cancer. According to doctors, having the right amount of Vitamin D can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. According to many, good amounts of sun exposure during early adult years reduces the risk of developing advanced breast cancer later in life. In fact, women with a good amount of exposure to the sun had half the risk of developing breast cancer as compared to women with low sun exposure.
On top of the benefits for breast cancer, according to one study of 34,000 adults, getting a sufficient amount of Vitamin D can also ward off the risk for colorectal, prostate, and even pancreatic cancer, among others. In the same study, the subjects with high levels of Vitamin D had a 20 percent lower chance of developing any type of cancer compared to those who have a Vitamin D deficiency.
You would be forgiven for believing that Vitamin D is some kind of miracle vitamin as it has so many life-saving effects on the body. As there are roughly 200 genes in the cardiovascular system regulated by Vitamin D, some believe that Vitamin D supplements can stop cholesterol from clogging arteries. It can also regulate blood pressure and improve the function of cells in the heart.
Vitamin D also plays a major role when it comes to cognitive function. People with very low Vitamin D are considered more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia than people with normal levels. But Vitamin D also plays a role in the common cold and the flu virus.
Risk of Flu
According to research, Vitamin D also makes it less likely for the development of upper respiratory infections in adults. However, an interesting study out of Japan showed that school kids who were given 1,200 IUs of Vitamin D daily had a 42 percent lower chance of catching the flu virus. That means that Vitamin D is as important for children as it is for adults.
According to Michael Holick, professor and director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center, Vitamin D also plays a role in moods as the vitamin is directly connected to the mood chemical serotonin. “In studies of animals deficient in serotonin, we have shown that Vitamin D improves serotonin levels,” Holick said. “Detection and treatment of Vitamin D deficiency in patients with depression may be an easy and cost-effective adjunct to mainstream therapies.”
According to numerous studies, healthy Vitamin D levels will help a person to enjoy a longer and more fulfilling life. A study from Norway found that Vitamin D slashes the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 30 percent. As study author Jutta Dierkes explained, “We discovered that the right amount of Vitamin D reduces the risk of death substantially.” With results like that, it’s incumbent on every person to have their Vitamin D levels checked.
D for IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a nasty condition which affects tens of thousands of people worldwide. But according to researchers from Sheffield Universtiy in the U.K., a Vitamin D deficiency can make symptoms worse. “It is evident from the findings that all people with IBS should have their Vitamin D levels tested and a large majority of them would benefit from supplements,” said study author Dr. Bernard Corfe.
Headaches and migraines affect the lives of many people on a daily basis. However, new research has shown that men with a Vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to suffer from headaches weekly compared with men who have the correct levels. This fact is an eye-opener for many people who find themselves debilitated by chronic headaches.
Autism in Children
Further research considered the relationship between autism in toddlers under three years old and Vitamin D deficiency. Studies have found that newborns with low Vitamin D levels were at the highest risk for developing autism. While more studies need to be carried out on more subjects before anything conclusive can be extrapolated, there does seem to be a connection.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MS is an autoimmune disease which eats away at protective coatings of nerves leading to a breakdown between the mind and the body. Neurology studies have found that high levels of Vitamin D could help to reduce the risk of MS. One study noted that for each level of increased concentration of Vitamin D in the blood, the risk of suffering from MS reduced by 39 percent. At the same time, those with a serious Vitamin D deficiency were 43 percent more likely to get MS.
A recent study even found an interesting connection between obesity and Vitamin D deficiency. According to the authors of the study, there’s a strong connection between excess belly fat and not enough Vitamin D. The study noted, “The strong relationship between increasing amounts of abdominal fat and lower levels of Vitamin D suggests that individuals with larger waistlines are at a greater risk of developing deficiency and should consider having their Vitamin D levels checked.”
While some studies have found Vitamin D to be helpful for some conditions, other studies have produced contradictory results. An example of this was found in a systematic review by researchers in Australia who, having analyzed 70 studies on the effect of Vitamin D on dementia, concluded that there was no significant association between the two. The same research suggested that there may be a connection between exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and protection against Alzheimer’s, but it had nothing to do with Vitamin D levels.
Whether you suffer from an ongoing ailment or suspect you are susceptible to cognitive issues, it’s well worth getting your Vitamin D level checked by your doctor. Vitamin D checks are carried out via a simple blood test which will tell your doctor whether you need a Vitamin D supplement or not. It’s best to err on the side of caution on this one, despite all the contradictory research.