Vitamin D has become a buzzword in nutrition, especially post Covid. So what exactly is vitamin D? Vitamin D refers to a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs in three forms; vitamins D1, D2 and D3. It is important to note that vitamin D is a nutrient in our food and a hormone our bodies produce. Food sources that are rich in vitamin D are fewer and hard to come by for most people, despite some foods being fortified with vitamin D. Supplementation of vitamin D is therefore necessary for some people.
The good news is that Vitamin D, also known as “the sunshine vitamin,” is naturally produced by our bodies when exposed to the sun’s UVB (Ultraviolet-B) rays. Vitamin D2 is made by plants and fungi, while humans and other animals produce D3. Animal-sourced foods rich in vitamin D3 are oily fish such as tuna, salmon, herring and sardines, liver, eggs, cheese and supplements. Vitamin D2 is found in plant sources such as mushrooms, fortified cereals and oatmeal, fortified orange juice and supplements.
The primary and most natural source of vitamin D for humans is the one produced by our bodies when exposed to sunlight. However, some people have inadequate vitamin D levels because they live in regions without sufficient sun, especially during the winter season or do not spend enough time outdoors.
Vitamin D and Disease Prevention
Vitamin D has been known to be essential due to its key role in helping our bodies absorb and retain Calcium and Phosphorus. Calcium and Phosphorus are critical minerals in bone formation. The latest research shows us that the benefits of vitamin D go beyond bone formation. Below are some of the key roles of vitamin D in disease prevention.
1. Vitamin D for Better Cognitive Function
An analysis using the Mendelian randomization of about 427,000 white Europeans showed a 54% higher than normal risk of developing dementia for participants with lower vitamin D in the blood compared to those with sufficient levels of vitamin D in the blood.
2. Vitamin D for Colon Cancer
About 30 years back, researchers discovered an intriguing tie between colon cancer and geographic location. The observation was that people living in higher altitude areas, such as the northern United States, had higher death rates from colon cancer than those living closer to the equator. This discovery led to the hypothesis that lower vitamin D levels may lead to colon cancer.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a new joint study by the American Cancer Society and other international research organizations looking at the relationship between vitamin D and colorectal cancer. Findings from the study show that higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a low risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Besides, other animal and laboratory studies show that Vitamin D inhibits the development and growth of breast, prostate, brain and ovary tumors.
3. Vitamin D for Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular diseases are currently the leading cause of death globally, with over 32% of deaths (17.9 million) annually caused by heart disease complications. Past research has shown that certain health conditions, family history, age, diet and lifestyle could all contribute to the risk of developing heart disease.
Recent results from a study in Australia that appeared in the European Heart Journal found compelling evidence that vitamin D deficiency could lead to high blood pressure and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The heart is made of large muscles, and similar to skeletal muscle, the heart has vitamin D receptors. Furthermore, vitamin D helps regulate high blood pressure, impacting cardiovascular health.
4. Vitamin D Role in Boosting the Immune System
One of the crucial roles that vitamin D plays in the body is boosting our immunity. Our body’s immunity is the first defense against disease-causing pathogens, and anything that can help support our immune system should be highly regarded. Vitamin D plays an important role by supporting the optimum function of dendritic, T and B cells.
People deficient in vitamin D are at an increased risk of infections such as seasonal flu and other respiratory diseases. In addition, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease are linked to insufficient vitamin D levels.
The benefits of vitamin D cannot be overemphasized. It might be challenging for most people to get sufficient vitamin D levels naturally from the sun or diet. We highly recommend you talk to your healthcare provider and ask for a blood test to check your vitamin D levels and consider supplementation if necessary.