Vitamin D and calcium strengthens the bones and teeth. Nevertheless, do you know that vitamin D plays many other roles in our body?
Vitamin D supports the nervous system, brain and immune system. It supports cardiovascular health and lung function and muscle health. In addition, it regulates the level of insulin thus manages diabetes and regulates blood pressure. Vitamin D protects against multiple sclerosis. It influences the expression of genes that is involved in the development of cancer and thus protects against cancer. It reduces inflammation and thus prevents rheumatoid arthritis. Sunshine hormone also plays a role in the growth of the cell.
Why Vitamin D is termed Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is not a vitamin but a pro-hormone. Unlike other vitamins that our body cannot prepare, and we need to consume them through our diet, vitamin D is synthesized in the presence of sunlight by our body. You just need to expose your bare skin to the sun for 5-10 minutes 2-3 times in a week to let your body produce sufficient vitamin D.
Therefore, the question arises when vitamin D is available so easily and free of cost why we suffer from vitamin D deficiency and why doctors today advise to include vitamin D foods in our diet?
What Causes Vitamin D deficiency
The research suggests that a substantial percentage of the world’s population suffers from a deficiency of vitamin D and a quarter of the global population is at the risk of vitamin D inadequacy.
Sunshine vitamin breaks down tremendously, and so its store can very quickly run down especially in winters when exposure to sunlight is shallow.
Also, today’s lifestyle that forces us to spend most of our time indoors can be blamed.
Even if outside we rarely are bare skin.
To prevent suntan and sunburn and decrease the risk of skin cancer we usually wear sunscreen before stepping out in the sun and sunscreen to some extent blocks UVB radiation.
Besides the elderly are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
In those with dark skin melanin pigment to an extent blocks the absorption of sunrays.
Those who live at high altitude have less access to the sun’s UVB rays.
Pollution too absorbs some rays of sun reducing the scope to synthesize the sunshine vitamin.
If the temperature is ambient and your skin is cool or cold, your skin absorbs less sunrays.
Poor nutrition is also responsible.
Most of the food sources of the sunshine vitamin are animal base and those who follow a vegan diet or vegetarians with milk allergies are likely to suffer from sunshine vitamin deficiency.
The deficiency of vitamin D may also occur if our body does not absorb or metabolize the vitamin D consumed in food due to ageing, being overweight or disorders of the gut.
Liver and kidney diseases tend to lower the level of the sunshine vitamin.
In addition, pregnant females and breastfeeding mothers are at the risk of vitamin D deficiency if supplements are not given because she has to fulfil the nutritional needs of foetus or infant along with her own.
Effects of Lack of Vitamin D
Sunshine vitamin helps our body to use the calcium that we consume from the diet. The deficiency of vitamin D leads to soft bones and skeletal deformities also known as rickets. In this diseases the mineralization of the bone tissue is not proper.
Lack of vitamin D also increases the risk of heart diseases, asthma in children, cancer and even cognitive impairment in adults.
In many people with deficiency of the sunshine vitamin, there may be no symptoms for many years or symptoms may be vague, changing over time or similar to the symptoms of other ailments. Thus, instead of self-diagnosing consult a doctor. Patients with the level of serum vitamin D less than 20 nonograms/millilitre are at the risk of vitamin D deficiency and those with serum vitamin D less than 12 nanograms/millilitre are diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.
Some people experience symptoms of vitamin D deficiency such as brittle bones, bones become prone to fracture, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, changes in mood, exhaustion, decreases endurance, unexplained fertility, high blood pressure and chronic muscle and bone pain.
How to Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is common these days. However, it can be easily prevented. The first step is to expose bare skin at least 5-10 minutes 2-3 times in week to morning sun in summers and anytime in day during winters. If this is not possible, the next step is to acknowledge the goal of vitamin D intake and make sure you get enough of this vitamin through diet.
Vitamin D Foods
The RDI or reference daily intake of vitamin D for an adult is 600 IU. However, if you do not expose your skin to enough sunlight, the RDI is approximately 1000 IU /day.
Below is the list of vitamin D foods you should include in your daily diet.
- Sardines and Herring
- Cod Liver Oil
- Canned tuna
- Beef Liver
- Egg yolk
- Soy milk
- Soy yoghurt
- Cow milk
- Swiss cheese
- Orange juice
As natural vitamin D sources are limited, food products such as cereals and oats fortified with this essential nutrient is also available. Do check the nutrient information labelled before buying foods.
Getting enough sunshine vitamin from diet is not impossible. Include plenty of vitamin D foods in your diet and make sure your body does not lack this vital nutrient.
*Many dietary supplements are sold in the market. Before you decide to take them, do discuss with your health care provider to determine how much vitamin D supplementation is correct in your case.