Most people know they should get outside and into the sun more than they do. We know vitamin D and fresh air are important. Aside from that mood and focus boost we walk back inside with, what does vitamin D help us with? Not many of us know. Even fewer of us know the side effects of too little.
Vitamin D is More than a Vitamin
When we look at the definition, there’s actually a word that fits what vitamin D is better than “vitamin.”
The definition of a vitamin, according to Medical Dictionary, is as follows:
[O]organic components in food that are needed in very small amounts for growth and for maintaining good health.
The definition of hormone, according to Medical Dictionary, is as follows:
Hormones act as chemical messengers to body organs, stimulating certain life processes and retarding others. Growth, reproduction, control of metabolic processes, sexual attributes, and even mental conditions and personality traits are dependent on hormones.
The NIH says:
Vitamin D is a lipid-soluble vitamin, but acts like a hormone. Unlike a vitamin, which is an essential organic compound that cannot be synthesized by the body and must be ingested, vitamin D can be synthesized. The active form of vitamin D … also known as calcitriol has chemical similarities to typical hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. The main sources of vitamin D are sunlight, diet, and supplementation.
Vitamin D isn’t just a vitamin. It is a hormone that affects multiple functions in the body. It’s the grease that keeps the gears of the Swiss Watch ticking smoothly.
The Many Benefits of Vitamin D
- Vitamin D helps regulate blood pressure. This doesn’t mean you should take vitamin D if you’re just looking to decrease your blood pressure. Getting a good amount of vitamin D keeps your blood pressure where it should be, though. Blood pressure is impacted by several factors within your body. Just because one person may develop high blood pressure due to low vitamin D, doesn’t mean everyone will. What vitamin D will do, is regulate your blood pressure and help keep it where it should be.
- Vitamin D builds strong bones and helps absorb vitamins and minerals. Our bones are made and kept strong by a variety of factors, including calcium and vitamin D. As the NIH puts it:
“Osteoporosis is, in part, a long-term effect of calcium and/or vitamin D insufficiency, in contrast to rickets and osteomalacia, which result from vitamin D deficiency. Osteoporosis is most often associated with inadequate calcium intakes, but insufficient vitamin D intakes contribute to osteoporosis by reducing calcium absorption.”
- Vitamin D also helps the body absorb magnesium, iron, zinc, and phosphorous.
- Vitamin D helps the muscular and nervous systems. Calcium is needed by not only your bones, but also your muscles and nerves. Just like vitamin D helps the bones absorb calcium, vitamin D also allows the muscles and nerves to absorb the calcium they need.
- Vitamin D helps fight viral infections and boosts the immune system. Vitamin D signals the body’s lymphocytes in the immune system to come and kill viral infections when your body comes in contact with them, keeping your immune system functioning properly.
- Vitamin D supports hormone signaling. Vitamin D is able to penetrate cells, which means it can communicate with the organs in your body that produce hormones and spark them to action.
Be Sure to Get Enough Vitamin D
Getting Enough Sun
Getting outside and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air is the easiest, most inexpensive, and best way to boost your vitamin D. Set a timer for fifteen to thirty minutes and go outside. Take a walk, lay on a mat outside, read a book, toss a ball back and forth, or see if your local humane society needs dog walkers. Just get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, especially in places where it’s not always available.
The NIH puts it this way:
Most people in the world meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight. Type B UV (UVB) radiation with a wavelength of approximately 290–320 nanometers penetrates uncovered skin and converts cutaneous 7-dehydrocholesterol to previtamin D3, which in turn becomes vitamin D3. Season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D synthesis. Older people and people with dark skin are less able to produce vitamin D from sunlight. UVB radiation does not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors through a window does not produce vitamin D.
When most of us go outside in the summer for lengthy periods of time, we wear sunscreen. Because getting straight sunlight is the best way to provide your body with vitamin D, though, you have to pick your sunscreens carefully. Many will either block too much sun or leach toxins into your bloodstream.
While it’s not as good of a source as simple sunshine, there are some foods sources. The NIH says it this way:
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel), and fish liver oils are among the best sources. An animal’s diet affects the amount of vitamin D in its tissues.
The NIH also says:
Relative to sun exposure, diet is a poor source of vitamin D, providing only 40–400 IU per food serving, whereas whole-body UVB exposure for 20 min for a light-skinned person during the summer months will produce upwards of 10,000 IU of vitamin D.
If it’s winter or you live somewhere with a lot of cloud cover or overcast days, these foods are important to take in. This is because you aren’t getting enough sun exposure as your body needs. One of the best food sources of vitamin D is cod liver oil, with 1360 international units in a single tablespoon. Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and rainbow trout are other fatty fish that, according to the NIH’s table of Vitamin D Content of Selected Foods [table 3] are decent food sources of vitamin D. Oysters, eggs, and beef liver are some other non-fish food sources.
Vitamin D Supplements
Many of us will turn to supplements over food sources due to either taste or convenience. The problem with this route is that not all supplements are created equal. There are times that the additional ingredients in the supplements make the benefits of what’s being advertised not worth it. Do your research into what’s in the supplements you’re buying before you take them and whether you truly need them before popping that pill.
Optimize Your Intake
If you are taking in vitamin D, but you still have a deficiency, your body may be having a hard time using what you are giving it. If you live somewhere where you aren’t getting a lot of sun, or aren’t getting it throughout the year, addressing the challenges within the body so you can optimize what you are getting is important, too. What are some things that can make it difficult for your body to use the vitamin D you are taking in?
The Importance of The Gallbladder and Liver
Vitamin D is fat-soluble. This means the main work of breaking it down comes from your gallbladder and liver. While we’re often told these days that we can live a healthy life without our gallbladder, this isn’t true. If your gallbladder or liver aren’t healthy, your body won’t be able to break down and use the fat-soluble vitamins you’re getting to the best of its ability. This includes vitamin D, as well as other important vitamins. Addressing and supporting these organs will allow the vitamins you’re taking in–however much it is–to absorb into your body and maintain the levels.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Stress–emotional, chemical, or physical–causes cortisol to increase. Cortisol counteracts vitamin D and can lower your levels. Release as much extra stress as you can. Let go of extra activities that you don’t enjoy, or that cause unneeded mental stress. Get adjusted to relieve physical and chemical stress.
Remember how we mentioned that vitamin D supports hormone signaling? When you don’t have enough of it to signal the various organs and processes to make more hormones, your hormones will become imbalanced. Vitamin D has a large impact on insulin. Low intake, then, will lend itself to high insulin resistance. Getting enough vitamin D will help signal your insulin production, and consequently help with blood sugar levels.
Metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease also tie back to how well your body can handle and absorb the sugar it’s being given. We can all benefit from cutting the processed sugars in our diet, and getting more vitamin D will help our bodies manage the sugars we’re taking in.
What are the effects of vitamin D deficiency?
The NIH has this to say about the connection between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis:
Numerous observational studies have suggested that there is a correlation between the level of serum vitamin D and MS risk and disease activity. To explore this hypothesis, a literature search of large, prospective, observation studies, epidemiological studies, and studies using new approaches such as Mendelian randomization was conducted. Available data and ongoing research included in this review suggest that the level of serum vitamin D affects the risk of developing MS and also modifies disease activity in MS patients.
The NIH says this about the connection between vitamin D and type 2 diabetes:
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a decreased insulin release, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in experimental and epidemiological studies. … The relationship between vitamin D deficiency and insulin resistance could develop through inflammation, as vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased inflammatory markers.
When it comes to the connection between vitamin D deficiencies and Alzheimer’s, the NIH has this to say:
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in the elderly individuals and is associated with progressive neurodegeneration of the human neocortex. Patients with AD have a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, which is also associated with low mood and impaired cognitive performance in older people.
Vitamin D is important for your body, and it’s especially important to get out in the sun and enjoy the warm weather while it’s here. That remains the best way to get the amount you need. To get your hormones tested, check on how your body is using the vitamin D available, get adjusted to lower your physical and chemical stress, and get quality supplements you can trust, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!