Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient needed by the body for proper and healthy functioning. Numerous processes inside the body require the presence of vitamin D in order to happen. Vitamin D comes in different forms and the most relevant forms for the human body are as vitamin D ergocalciferol and vitamin D cholecalciferol.

The natural source of vitamin D is the sun and it is produced in the skin of the vertebral species after being exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B. There are also synthetic sources of vitamin D. In some countries, the fortification of vitamin D in selected food products is required; this may include margarine, flour and milk. Vitamin D can also come in pill form. Other natural sources of vitamin D are meat, eggs, mushrooms, and fish.

Vitamin D for Healthier Bones

There are numerous health benefits of vitamin D to the body. And on one hand, there are also several health risks for not getting enough vitamin D.

The most important and observable benefit of vitamin D is its role in bone growth and bone health. It is a well known fact that the skeletal system needs as much calcium as it can get in order to grow properly and maintain strength and healthy density. But drinking plenty of glasses of milk everyday or taking calcium supplements may not be enough to achieve the full health benefits of calcium. Vitamin D is an important reactant for the absorption of calcium. It promotes the absorption of calcium in the intestines and at the same time supports bone restoration. It also allows proper bone formation by maintaining the levels of phosphate and calcium inside the body.

Studies reveal that vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to the development of osteoporosis since it results to a decrease in a person’s bone density.  Also, changes in metabolic processes which are important in maintaining a health skeletal system occur. The high-dosed supplementation of vitamin D along with high calcium diet was also observed to be a potential treatment for patients with osteoporosis. Other studies showed that increased supplementation of vitamin D can increase bone density and may result to a lower risk of developing illnesses associated with weakened bones that may lead to fractures, commonly of the hip.

Medical experts will also recommend sufficient involvement in outdoor physical activities in order to maintain and promote bone health. Proper exercise helps in strengthening the bones and at the same time exposes the body to healthy levels of UV-B in order for the body to naturally produce vitamin D. Diet is a secondary method of supplying the body with its much needed demand for vitamin D. Eating the right kind of foods and taking supplements will ensure a long term approach to keeping the bones at tiptop shape.

Boosting the Immune System

The second most important benefit of vitamin D to the human body is its role in keeping the immune system prepared and well-equipped against the attacks of pathogenic substances that enters the body. It serves to enhance the phagocytic activity of immune cells called macrophages. Vitamin D also increases the production of substances produced by the macrophages in order to combat fungi, viruses and bacteria.

According to a study conducted by a team of researchers, results have demonstrated how vitamin D deficiency results to the weakening of T cells, the body’s natural soldiers against infection and diseases. The head researcher, Professor Carsten Geisler from the University of Copenhagen, said that immune cells will remain dormant until they are activated. Bacteria and viruses will remain inside the body and continue to do damage until the immune cells detect their presence; this process requires vitamin D. The study also suggested that without vitamin D, the immune system will be less effective in fighting infection and diseases. They added that vitamin D can be used to develop new vaccines by assisting immune cells to better detect infection and combat the source.

The studies evaluating the importance of vitamin D to the immune system further puts emphasis to the importance of the vitamin as a dietary need.

Vitamin D Supplementation Guidelines

The established daily intake recommendation of vitamin D is 600 IU. But the Maine Medical Center Research Institute from Scarborough in Maine is suggesting an increase in vitamin D RDA. They are recommending a raise from 600 IU to 800 IU and above for people ages 1 to 70 in order to maintain and optimize bone health. The new guidelines set by the institute also suggested an increase in calcium RDA. For children aged 1 to 3 years, the institute suggested that daily intake should not be lower than 700 milligrams of calcium and 1000 milligrams for those 4 years to adolescent age; the dosage increases as the person grows older.

The new guidelines said that Canadians are getting sufficient dosage of calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis. But elderly people tend to get less of the nutrient including girls ages 9 to 18. Vitamin D is important to help in the absorption of calcium in the intestines and it also plays an important role in maintaining bone health.

Studies linking vitamin D deficiency to the development of diseases like diabetes, some types of cancer, and heart diseases are growing in numbers. Despite that, the evidences are limited to indicate causation. But further studies are expected to further establish facts and the medical experts are expecting the increase in vitamin D dietary requirement to demonstrate its benefits on an aggregate level. The committee members who recommended the increase in vitamin D RDA issued a disclaimer saying that taking the vitamin for more than 600 to 800 IU will not benefit the bones but may still benefit other bodily functions.

Sunlight Exposure for Vitamin D Synthesis

Exposing one’s self to the sun is one of the most effective ways of supplying the body with vitamin D. Sunlight provides the body with more vitamin D than some food sources. The skin has a natural mechanism that produces vitamin D and this is triggered by the exposure to UV rays. The synthesis of vitamin D is affected by sunscreens, geographic altitude and location and even the season. Light installations in homes will not give the body enough UV to synthesize vitamin D. Sun exposure may sound dangerous but the body will only need 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure twice a week in order to help in the production of vitamin D.

Souced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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