Generally speaking, all micronutrients are important because they are the building blocks of our health, but here we will talk about one vitamin in particular. This vitamin is vital for our bone health, it is the base of our skeletal system. Some call it “ the sunshine vitamin” but it is better known as vitamin D.
You may have heard a few claims about the importance of vitamin D, but here you can find out so much more.
Why is it so important? Which roles does it have? Why is it called “the sunshine vitamin”, and how much of it do we actually need?
The answers await you, all you need to do is keep reading.
VITAMIN D, AND HOW CAN IT HELP?
Vitamin D, also known as calciferol, is a vitamin soluble in fats widely used due to its beneficial effects and importance for bone health.
Two main forms of vitamin D are:
- D2 – Ergocalciferol
- D3 – Cholecalciferol
Both of these forms are well absorbed in the gut (small intestine to be exact), but vitamin D3 does raise vitamin D levels in the blood higher and longer than D2.
Due to its fat solubility, the best option is to take it with a fat-containing meal or snack.
Important roles of this vitamin include a role in:
- Bone growth and development
- Absorption of calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) and maintenance of their adequate levels (they are vital for bone mineralization)
- Prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones thin, fragile, and easily breakable
- Prevention and treatment of rickets, a condition that affects bone development in children
- Prevention and treatment of osteomalacia (loss of bone mineral content, bone pain, muscle weakness, and soft bones)
- Muscle health, movement, and prevention of hypocalcemic tetany (involuntary contraction of muscles, leading to cramps and spasms)
- Nerve health and the process of carrying messages between the brain and the body
- Fighting and prevention of viral and bacterial infections
- Reduction of inflammation
- Hearth health and normal blood pressure
The thing that stands out regarding the way you can get vitamin D is that this vitamin apart from being found in foods and supplements can also be obtained from sun exposure. When sunlight touches the skin, UV rays from the sun trigger vitamin D synthesis.
The amount of vitamin D you can get from sun exposure varies, depending on many things such as:
- where you live
- time of the day
- skin pigmentation
However, ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer, so it is important to avoid excessive sun exposure, and tanning beds should be completely avoided.
HOW MUCH DO WE NEED?
Vitamin D intake is generally safe, but both higher and lower intake of the sunshine vitamin may have harmful effects.
Very high levels may cause nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, loss of appetite, frequent urination, dehydration, and pain.
These high amounts are caused by excessive intake of vitamin D ( supplements in most cases).
Low levels of vitamin D may lead to a deficiency which may cause rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.
Deficiency may occur due to:
- a lack of vitamin D in the diet
- poor absorption of the vitamin
- a metabolic need for higher amounts
It may occur in people with disrupted digestion of fat ( people with IBD -ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease) because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and it depends on the absorption of dietary fat.
However, even if It does accumulate in fats, too much fat can make it less available for use, so obese people tend to have lower amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D level may also be a problem in people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, which typically removes the upper part of the small intestine where vitamin D is absorbed.
Recommended intakes of Vitamin D depend on the age :
- From birth to 12 months – 10 mcg (400 IU)
- From 1 -13 years – 15 mcg (600 IU)
- From 14 – 18 years – 15 mcg (600 IU)
- From 19 -70 years – 15 mcg (600 IU)
- 71 and older – 20 mcg (800 IU)
- Pregnancy and lactation – 15 mcg (600 IU)
Getting too much from food is a scenario that rarely happens, and supplementation is the one that needs closer attention so the toxic levels don’t happen.
Tolerable upper intake levels of vitamin D
- From 0-6 months – no more than 25 mcg (1000 IU)
- From 7-12 months – no more than 38 mcg (1500 IU)
- From 1 – 3 years – no more than 63 mcg ( 2500 IU )
- From 4 – 8 years – no more than 75 mcg ( 3,000 IU)
- 9 years and older – no more than 100 mcg (4,000 IU)
WHERE TO FIND VITAMIN D?
There are only a few natural sources of vitamin D including eggs (egg yolks) and cheese (ricotta, cheddar).
Fortunately for us, there are fortified foods full of vitamin D, such as:
- Fortified milk
- Fortified plant-based milk such as soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, etc.
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified margarine
- Mushrooms may also provide some amounts of vitamin D. Some mushrooms are exposed to UV light to increase their levels of vitamin D.
The importance of vitamin D intake is indisputable, as it has so many roles in our health, primarily the building and maintenance of our bones. If you can’t manage to get enough from natural sources, and this can happen often, choose a good supplement and/or fortified foods that are widely available. Don’t let your bones become weak due to your lack of attention, focus on getting your daily dose of vitamin D. However, pay attention to the amounts, don’t overdo it, and consult with your doctor about the dosage if needed.