Vitamin D Benefits – Many of us lead sedentary, indoor-bound lives; and when we do venture outside, we are reminded by the media and health experts to slap
on the sunscreen. Picture yourself taking a break; turning away from the computer, putting away those books you were reading, or perhaps turning off your mobile device.
Now walk outside, into the sunshine (leave that sunscreen for now); find a nice patch of grass, and perhaps lie down on it. Feel the warmth of the sun on your upturned face, your bare arms… Doesn’t that make you feel better already? You may not think about it very much, but when you’re soaking up the sun’s rays, you’re also soaking up vitamin D.
It’s sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight. Vitamin D has multiple roles in the body, but because of the growing fears of harmful UV rays, it is estimated that about half the global population is vitamin D deficient. So why is it so good, and why should we give ourselves sensible sun exposure on a regular basis?
Vitamin D Benefits For Health
Building strong bones and teeth
Perhaps the most vital benefit of Vitamin D is regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, you’re at risk of developing bone abnormalities such as soft bones (osteomalacia) or fragile bones (osteoporosis).
Vitamin D supports the “killer cells” of the immune system. These are important for seeking out and destroying pathogens. These “Killer cells” lie dormant around the body until they’re needed to fend off an invader. They rely on signals from the body to be activated. Vitamin D is one of the most important ingredients for these signals. Vitamin D plays a role in the cell’s ability to go into alert mode, and tells the cell to calm down when the job is done. If the “Killer cell” continues to rampage through the body, it can cause collateral damage and may contribute to autoimmune disorders.
In addition to its primary benefits, research suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in: reducing your risk of multiple sclerosis; decreasing your chance of developing heart disease; regulating insulin levels and aiding diabetes management; supporting lung function and cardiovascular health; and even helping to reduce your likelihood of developing the flu.
Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms. In another study of people with fibromyalgia, researchers found vitamin D deficiency was more common in those who were also experiencing anxiety and depression.
Helping with weight loss
Consider adding vitamin D supplements to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight or prevent heart disease. In one study, people who took a daily vitamin D supplement did not lose a significant amount of weight, but were able to improve their heart disease risk markers. People taking a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement have also been shown to be able to lose more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement. Extra calcium and vitamin D likely have an appetite-suppressing effect.
Influencing genes involved in cancer development
Activated vitamin D is one of the most potent inhibitors of cancer cell growth, and can influence the expression of genes involved in cancer development. For example, seventy percent of women with breast cancer are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D has been shown to prevent breast cancer cell growth and decrease the expression of cancer causing genes.
How do you know you are Vitamin D-ficient?
Many lifestyle and environmental factors can affect your ability to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through the sun alone. These factors include: pollution; use of sunscreen; spending more time indoors; living in big cities where buildings block sunlight; having darker skin.
These factors contribute to vitamin D deficiency in an increasing number of people. The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in adults include: general tiredness, aches and pains; severe bone or muscle pain or weakness that may cause difficulty climbing stairs; stress fractures, especially in the legs, pelvis, and hips.
Where to get Vitamin D
Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it is directly exposed to sunlight. This doesn’t mean you need to get out there and expose your bare skin all day, everyday. A little can go a long way. All you need is about 10 minutes a day of midday, pre-sunscreen sun exposure. If natural sun exposure is difficult where you live or based on your lifestyle, you can also get it through certain foods and supplements to ensure adequate levels of the vitamin in your blood. Foods that contain vitamin D include: oily fish like salmon and sardines; egg yolk; and fortified foods such as milk, cereal, yogurt and orange juice.
The bottom line
With such a wide range of health benefits, and considering how easy it is to ensure we have a steady supply, it is rather surprising that so many of us are actually vitamin D deficient. Yes, we need to be careful about the sun’s harmful rays; at the same time, however, we need to remember that sunshine can boost our immune systems, help us build strong bones, avoid major diseases, and simply feel better about life. So the next sunny day when you have a few moments to spare, before picking up your phone, turning on the TV, or doing those chores that you’ve been meaning to do – open the door, head outside, soak in some of those glorious rays, and let your body produce the vitamin D that you need.