The latest research is showing that Vitamin D could be the key to preventing many poor health conditions. It is known to support the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous in blood and bones, regulate cell differentiation and proliferation, encourage insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation and manage over 200 genes throughout the body. It works with other nutrients and hormones in the body to encourage an ongoing process of mineralization and demineralization in the bones.
What many don’t realize is that vitamin D is actually a precursor hormone, part of a steroid hormone in the body called ‘calcitriol’, the biologically active vitamin D3. Calcitriol seems to become part of the body’s cells and regulates anabolism and catabolism within healthy tissue. It also helps regulate cell division, which means it may prevent cancer by assisting with normal cell growth.
The body cannot synthesize vitamin D on its own, but it can make it from sun exposure. As little as a couple of hours of full sun exposure per week (20 minutes per day), in strong enough UVB rays, is sufficient to meet the body’s vitamin D requirement. Vitamin D can also be eaten in foods like fatty fish and full fat dairy products (vitamin D is fat-soluble); however supplementation is almost always needed.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency may be muscle pain, weak bones/fractures, fatigue, low immunity, depression and sleep problems. New research is showing that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Vitamin D deficiency is so prevalent because people are spending more time indoors and less time in the sun, and wearing more sunscreen. Sun block and windows block us from the UVB rays necessary for manufacturing vitamin D.
Older people are also at risk of deficiency as the thinner the skin becomes, the lower the amount of vitamin D precursor (from cholesterol) there is in the skin to make sufficient vitamin D.
It is especially important for teenage girls to get enough vitamin D, since optimal bone growth during puberty may prevent osteoporosis later in life. Women in menopause have a difficult time stimulating the mechanism that builds bone tissue, as their estrogen levels drop. Calcium needs sufficient levels of vitamin D and estrogen (in women) to behave properly in the body. People with digestive problems (especially fat metabolism) may be deficient due to poor absorption.
The good news is that the diagnosis is easy, and treatment with supplementation is safe and affordable. Depending on location and sun exposure, different levels of supplementation are needed. A simple blood test done by your healthcare provider and will let you know exactly what your levels are and what kind of supplement to take. One should ideally have vitamin D levels of 125nmol/L, year round.