Vitamin D, commonly known as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” is a crucial vitamin that plays a tremendous role in the absorption of calcium and phosphorous for healthy bones and teeth.
However, the reason this one vitamin gets so much attention is because it plays a much larger role throughout the body.
Most cells and tissues in the body have receptor sites for vitamin D. This indicates that vitamin D helps regulate multiple organ systems including:
- Gastrointestinal tract (stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, gallbladder)
- Endocrine system (hormones)
- Skeletal System (bones/joints)
- Nervous System (brain/nerves)
- Immune System
Here are 7 lesser known reasons why maintaining optimal levels of this sunshine vitamin is important for our health.
1. Brain Health
Over the past several years, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of brain-related disorders like, Parkinson’s, MS, Dementia and even Autism.
According to a recent study from the University of Queensland, vitamin D helps protect against autism.
In human studies, the researchers found that pregnant women with low levels of vitamin D had an increased chance of having a child with autistic traits.
2. Antidepressant properties
Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Researchers behind a 2013 meta-analysis noticed that study participants with depression also had low vitamin D levels.
Because vitamin D is important to brain function, insufficient levels have been shown to play a role in depression and other mental illnesses. An earlier study in 2005 identified vitamin D receptors in the same areas of the brain associated with depression.
3. Supports Insulin Production
Healthy levels of vitamin D ensure we produce adequate levels of insulin along with glucagon. Low vitamin D levels are associated with Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiency in children has been linked with increasing their risk for developing Type 1 Diabetes. One study even found that pregnant women with low vitamin D levels (during pregnancy) had infants with a higher risk of type 1 diabetes.
In one study carried out on infants, it was observed that a vitamin D supplementation of 2,000 IU per day resulted in an 88% reduced chance of developing type-1 diabetes by age 32.
In another study that monitored 903 individuals for 12 years, it was observed that those who had inadequate vitamin D levels were five times more likely to have type-2 diabetes than those with optimum levels
4. Breast Cancer Protection
Checking Vitamin D levels is a baseline protocol for oncologists and integrative breast cancer treatment plans. Stanford University School of Medicine study (along with several other studies) found that vitamin D3 inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells and stimulates apoptosis (cancer cell death).
5. Immune Boost
Low vitamin D levels may be one of the key reasons why acute respiratory infections such as colds and flu are common during spring and winter. According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, vitamin D plays a critical role in enhancing immunity against viral, acute respiratory infections.
According to the study, which accommodated about 11,000 participants across 14 countries, a daily supplementation of vitamin D at a concentration of about 25 nmol/L reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections by 50 percent.
6. Reverses Autoimmunity
New research from Autoimmunity Research Foundation shows that the low vitamin D levels can create autoimmune disorders.
Researchers have found that vitamin D receptors get downregulated by pathogens (such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, and yeast) compromising the use of vitamin D. These pathogens can be the primary causes of autoimmunity.
Increasing vitamin D levels is key in managing an autoimmune condition.
7. Improves Sleep and Sleep Apnea
Preliminary studies indicate healthy levels of vitamin D help you get a better quality of sleep and also help you to stay asleep throughout the night.
In fact, vitamin D deficiency has been a contributing factor to the growing epidemic of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which an individual stops breathing multiple times throughout the night. Sleep apnea results in poor sleep, decreased oxygenation, brain fog, High Blood Pressure and increased risks for a number of other health conditions, including metabolic syndrome.
How to get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. Generally speaking, most people require 30 minutes of decent exposure to sunlight, 3-4 times a week in order to naturally synthesize enough vitamin D.
What’s decent exposure? This means having at least 50% of skin exposed. So wearing a tank top with pants, simply isn’t going to cut it for vitamin D synthesis from the sun.
In fact, I’ve come across many landscapers and construction workers who get an adequate amount of sun exposure (especially in southern states) that are still deficient in vitamin D. So, what gives?
There are many factors, such as genetics and where we live, that play a role in whether or not we’re synthesizing enough vitamin D from the sun.
So, it is important to be aware of these in order to maintain an optimum level of vitamin D.
Here is a list of things that can interfere or limit your vitamin D production from sun exposure:
- Overweight or Obesity
- Sunscreen - blocks vitamin D synthesis from the sun
- The more skin Melanin (skin pigment that causes brown skin)…the less vitamin D synthesis
- Covering more than 50% of your skin during sun exposure
- Showering immediately after sun exposure (always wait at least 20 min. before showering)
- Latitude- the further north you live, the less vitamin D you make during October through March (People from Massachusetts, Canada and other northern states/countries produced little to know vitamin D- even with sun exposure during these months)
- Altitide – the lower the altitude the less vitamin D you make
It’s very easy to check you vitamin D levels with a simple blood test.
Lab values will indicate that normal levels for vitamin D range between 30 ng/ml – 100 ng/mL, but any functional medicine expert will tell you that OPTIMUM vitamin D levels should be between 60 ng/ml – 100 ng/mL.
Vitamin D levels lower than 60 ng/ml will set the stage for chronic illness and other health issues.
If your vitamin D levels are lower than this, then you should begin taking a good quality D supplement. Always confer with your healthcare practitioner as to how much vitamin D you should be taking.
2000 IU’s of vitamin D is only enough if your vitamin D levels are optimum and you are trying to maintain. Otherwise, you need much higher doses to increase your serum (blood) levels of vitamin D.
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