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June 11, 2024

The Sunshine Vitamin: Understanding the Importance of Vitamin D for Health

The famous singer John Denver once sang, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy!

Well, it turns out, it’s literally true. Vitamin D or the sunshine vitamin is a crucial element – not just for our happiness but for our overall wellbeing. And in this article, we will tell you all about it.

Standing out from all its counterparts, Vitamin D is a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol, when our skin is exposed to the sun. And thus, the name sunshine vitamin. The problem is, with today’s lifestyle, people’s exposure to sunshine has reduced significantly. This leads to a range of health issues.

Understanding Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient that our body needs for building bones and maintaining their health. Calcium, the primary component of bones can be absorbed properly by the body only in the presence of adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Many cellular functions are also regulated by Vitamin D. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that dissolves in fats and is stored within our body for a long time.

Vitamin D also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties that support the health of the immune system, muscle function and brain cell activity.

Our body can derive Vitamin D from two trusted dietary sources:

  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is found in animal-based sources such as egg yolks and fatty fish
  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), which is found in plant-based sources such as mushrooms and yeasts.

Of the two, Vitamin D3 is twice as effective in increasing Vitamin D levels in the blood than Vitamin D2.

The Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a multi-faceted vitamin that plays two primary roles in our body’s health:

Immune Function

An adequate amount of Vitamin D supports good immune function and reduces the risk of autoimmune diseases. In fact, researchers have found that there may be a connection between long-term vitamin D deficiency and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. However, such research is still in its initial stages.

You can read our article Decoding the Mysteries of Autoimmune Diseases to learn more about autoimmune conditions.

Healthy Bones

Vitamin D promotes the absorption by our body and in turn, helps maintain an adequate amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.

Both calcium and phosphorus are crucial elements of healthy bones and teeth.

The Importance of Vitamin D in Infants and Children

Infancy and childhood are the time when a child grows. Hence, they need to have adequate amounts of vitamin D. Deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets, a disease characterised by softening of the bone tissues, ultimately leading to malformation of bones and joints.

Deficiency of vitamin D has also been linked to high blood pressure in children and arterial wall stiffness. A link has also been found between vitamin D exposure and an increase in the risk of allergies in children.

The Importance of Vitamin D During Pregnancy

Research has found strong links between pregnancy and vitamin D. Deficiency in vitamin D can increase the risk of developing preeclampsia, a condition that leads to a sudden rise in blood pressure and premature birth. Some researchers link lower vitamin D levels to gestational diabetes. Adequate vitamin D levels are also linked to a lower risk of allergies in newborns.

Other health benefits of having an adequate amount of vitamin D include:

  • Having adequate physical strength
  • Reduced risk of falls, fractures and osteoporosis
  • Prevention of cancer
  • Reduction in the risk of type 1 diabetes
  • Management of depression

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Honestly speaking, most people do not face any symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. However, chronic deficiency may cause osteomalacia or ‘soft bone disease’ which is characterised by inadequate mineralization of bone tissue. Osteomalacia, in turn, can lead to issues such as joint pain, bone pain, muscle weakness or spasms and problems with the development of bone or teeth.

Prolonged vitamin D deficiency is linked to osteoporosis and increase the risk of falling and fracturing, especially in older people.

Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to hyperthyroidism, which in turn can lead to a hormone imbalance that increases the blood calcium levels.

How to Find Out if You Are Deficient in Vitamin D?

The only way to find out about vitamin D deficiency is getting your bloodwork done. Contact your healthcare provider to get bloodwork done and have a discussion if you are deficient.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

In case you are deficient, your healthcare provider might suggest you take supplements. The recommended daily usage of Vitamin D is:

Age Recommended Daily Usage
Infants 0-12 months 10 mcg
Children 1-18 years 15 mcg
Adults up to 70 years (including pregnant or lactating women) 15 mcg
Adults over 70 years 20 mcg

How To Ensure Your Vitamin D Levels

Now let us come to an especially important aspect – how you can get an adequate amount of vitamin D.

Well, our body creates vitamin D when it comes in direct contact with sunlight. Fortunately, there’s no dearth of sunshine in Malaysia. So just go out and take a walk, you will get your required physical activity for the day as well as your daily dose of vitamin D.

Vitamin D can also be found in small numbers in certain foods such as:

  • Red meat
  • Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring
  • Fish liver oils such as cod liver oil
  • Liver (to be avoided if you are pregnant)
  • Egg yolks
  • Certain fortified foods such as spreads and breakfast cereals.
  • Certain dairy products are also fortified with vitamin D
  • Vitamin D can also be found in dietary supplements.

The Sunny Side of Life

Vitamin D is a silent supporter of our bone and immune system. It protects us from a range of diseases and is crucial to our overall well-being. If you are unable to obtain the necessary amount of vitamin D from natural sources, speak to your doctor to know about supplements that can help you.

However, bear in mind that excessive vitamin D in the body can have detrimental effects. Rather than doing good, it can lead to a condition called hypercalcemia which can lead to fatigue, bone pain, weakness and other issues.

Speaking to your doctor is crucial before taking any medication. In the end, informed choices help us stay healthy and happy.

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