A lot has been said about the importance of Vitamin D, especially in relation to bone health. But that's not all, Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that is required to carry out many critical functions of the human body. All health experts and doctors recommend a Vitamin D test at least once in six months. In India, medical experts have seen an upsurge in Vitamin D deficiency cases - estimated to be between 70% and 85%. Also known as the 'sunshine' vitamin, vitamin D is a unique vitamin that is produced in our skin in response to sunlight. Yes, sunlight. But due to the months-long pandemic, we all were pushed indoors. Vitamin D is associated with bone health, recent scientific evidence has spotlighted its role beyond just bone health, bringing it to the centre stage of public health. Vitamin D works like a hormone or prohormone in our body which makes it more important for us to focus on it.
What is Vitamin D?
For the human body, two forms of Vitamin D are important - Vitamin D2 (also known as ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is obtained from dietary vegetable sources and oral supplements, whereas Vitamin D3 is obtained primarily from skin exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB). Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the regulation and absorption of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphate in the body. There are many signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency; one must keep a check on these signs and symptoms.
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What happens when your vitamin D is low? | Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency
Frequent infections, lower immunity. Vitamin D is directly involved in fighting infections, especially cold and flu. We have seen evidence of this in the recent COVID pandemic, which is also associated with respiratory infection.
Loss of bone density
Vitamin D helps improve the absorption of calcium and hence protects our bones from losing mass.
Depression is also one of the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency. While low Vitamin D may not be the cause, some studies have shown an improvement in symptoms of depression was seen with Vitamin Supplementation.
Fatigue and tiredness, and loss of sleep can be due to a decreased level of Vitamin D in our body.
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Health Benefits Of Vitamin D
1. Healthy Bones and Muscles
As we know Vitamin D is known to boost bone health. But how? Vitamin D helps with the absorption of both calcium and phosphorus, both critical for bone health and growth. Moreover, it maintains the proper balance between Calcium and Phosphorus.
2. Keeps You Happy (Helps Manage Depression)
While Vitamin D is an important nutrient for overall health, it is also known to uplift mood. As per a recent study, vitamin D helps the production of serotonin and melatonin, which are known to manage our mood and sleep cycle. Vitamin D supplementation has shown an improvement in some symptoms of depression but not to the extent of making it a treatment.
3. Boosts Immunity
The active form of vitamin D helps improve immunity. It modulates innate immunity and thus protects against infections. During the COVID pandemic, we have seen the role of vitamin D to protect and aid treatment. Various studies have pointed to the protective effects of Vitamin D and respiratory functions.
4. Control Diabetes
Vitamin D is associated with maintaining the adequate function of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas and also improving insulin sensitivity. In deficiency the opposite happens, increasing the risk of type-2 diabetes.
5. Manages Blood Pressure Level
Unstable blood pressure levels are a major risk factor for CVD. Recent clinical and observational studies have shown that Vitamin D has a positive role in managing blood pressure levels through metabolic pathways.
6. Healthy Heart
Our heart is a muscular organ. Vitamin D, as we know, keeps our muscles healthy and strong. A new study conducted by international researchers found that a diet rich in vitamin D may help improve heart health. The results of the study, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, suggested that the intake of foods high in vitamin D content may have heart-protective effects.
7. May Prevent Cancer
Cancers of the colon and breast have been associated with low Vitamin D in observational studies. A meta-analysis of 16 prospective studies pointed to a reduction in cancer incidence by 11%, probably because of the vitamin support cell differentiation and inhibits proliferation. Vitamin D is found to have a role in the precipitation of autoimmune diseases like MS (multiple sclerosis).
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Natural Sources Of Vitamin D:
Sunshine is a natural source of Vitamin D. National Institute of Nutrition recommends spending at least 20 minutes in the morning sun. Walk in the sunshine, read a book outdoors, or just sunbathe, but make sure to get your share.
Vitamin D-rich foods are very few. While fatty fish is the best source, Salmon, Tuna and sardines are excellent sources. Egg yolk provides a considerable amount of vitamin D. Vegetarian sources of vitamin D are few. You can add mushrooms, milk, yogurt, tofu, soybeans and cheese.
Note: Supplementation should only be taken under a doctor's guidance as vitamin D overdose may lead to toxicity.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.