Known popularly as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is the only vitamin that the body is capable of producing on its own on being exposed to sunshine. Vitamin D, also called Cholecalciferol is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight before it can produce this vitamin. Ten to fifteen minutes of sunshine thrice a week is adequate to produce the body's requirement of vitamin D. Vitamin D is fat soluble and is stored in the body's fatty tissue.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D helps build strong bones as it helps the body use calcium from the diet. Deficiency of Vitamin D has been associated with diseases like rickets, in which the bone tissue does not mineralize promptly. This leads to soft bones and skeletal deformities called osteoporosis, 'porous bones' in adults and 'Osteomalacia' or soft bones in children. Vitamin D works in tandem with other nutrients and hormones in the body and supports healthy bone renewal.
Recent studies have concluded that Vitamin D protects against a host of health ailments. These include diabetes type 2, hypertension or high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and multiple sclerosis. Adequate levels of Vitamin D are needed for reducing the risk of hypertension.
The role of Vitamin D in overall good health is often ignored. It is crucial in the immune system regulation as well as maintaining brain function well into later years. Vitamin D might have a bearing on your risk to cancer. In a study carried out by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, it was noticed that cancer patients showed Vitamin D deficiency. This could result because the active form of Vitamin D is instrumental in inhibiting proliferation and plays a role in cellular differentiation.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
Bone pain and weakness of muscles are the most prominent symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency. In many however, the symptoms are subtle. Sometimes, even without symptoms, Vitamin D deficiency can pose heavy risks. Low blood levels of the vitamin are associated with the following:
- Increased risk of fatality from cardiovascular disease.
- Cognitive impairment in older persons.
- Severe asthma in children.
Test for Vitamin D deficiency
The 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test accurately measures the quantity of Vitamin D in your body. This test changes Vitamin D into an active form of the vitamin which is measured through the blood. It is the active form of Vitamin D that helps control calcium and phosphate levels in your body. The normal range is between 30.0 and 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
Possible causes of Vitamin D deficiency
Being Vegetarian: As most natural sources of Vitamin D are animal based, like fish and fish oils, egg yolks and cheese and beef liver, vegetarians are at risk for deficiency of Vitamin D.
Limited Sunlight exposure: The body makes Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. If you are largely home bound and live in northern latitudes, wear long dresses with head covering or are engaged in an occupation that prevents exposure to the sun, chances are you might be deficient in Vitamin D.
Dark skin: This is because pigment melanin reduces the skin's ability to make Vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Older adults with darker skin are at high risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Inability of kidneys to convert Vitamin D to its active form: As one grows older, kidneys become less efficient in converting Vitamin D to its active form. This increases the risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Poor absorption: Certain medical complications including Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease can affect your intestine's ability to absorb Vitamin D from the food that is consumed.
Obesity: When you are overweight, Vitamin D which is extracted from the blood by fat cells alters its release into the circulation. Therefore those with a BMI of 30 or above have low blood levels of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D side effects
Inversely, too much of this Vitamin can make the intestines absorb too much calcium leading to high levels of calcium in the blood. This high blood calcium in turn can lead to:
- Deposit of calcium in the soft tissues such as the lungs and heart
- Disorientation and general confusion in behavior
- Damage to the kidneys
- Kidney stones
- Vomiting, nausea, constipation, lack of appetite, weakness and weight loss.