We all have heard of Vitamin D, but what does it do?
Many of us have likely been told by our doctors that we are “vitamin D deficient” and that we should take supplements and/or get out in the sun more. But what exactly is Vitamin D, and what does it do for us?
Vitamin D is a vitamin that is found in very few foods naturally, but produced in our body through exposure to sunlight/UV rays. Vitamin D is responsible for calcium absorption in our gastrointestinal system, which is very important to our body. Without Vitamin D to help the absorption of calcium, we can’t build healthy bones! Along the lines of building bones, vitamin D also assists breakdown of bone tissue, an important part of maintaining healthy bones. This means that vitamin D, along with calcium, is needed to help delay, or even prevent, osteoporosis in older adults.
Besides assisting your body with bone health, vitamin D also helps monitor and decrease inflammation, assist cell growth and assist with immune system functioning. Since this vitamin is not readily available in many foods (unlike vitamin C or iron), it is often either added to foods or available in supplemental form. Foods that have vitamin D naturally in them are: fatty fish, beef livers, egg yolks, cheese, and some mushrooms. Many of our daily foods that we consume regularly that have had vitamin D put into them are: most milks and cheeses, plant based milks, some orange juice, and yogurt.
As stated earlier, UV rays from the sun also help the body jumpstart the vitamin D cycle in the body; however, it is important to monitor how much time one is spending in direct sunlight. Older adults and individuals with darker skin have a much harder time creating vitamin D from UV ray exposure, so if you fall into one of these categories, it is very important to make sure you are aware of how much time you are spending in the sun. Some doctors and vitamin D researchers recommend that 5-30 minutes a day or a few times a week in the sun without sunscreen is an appropriate amount of time to assist your body with vitamin D creation.
All of this information is great, but what happens if you lack sufficient vitamin D in your body? Vitamin D deficiency can occur due to a variety of reasons, such as decreased exposure to sunlight, diets low in vitamin D, or decreased ability to absorb vitamin D through digestion. In children, vitamin D deficiency mainly manifests as “rickets”, or the inability to properly form bones, leading to soft bone formation and skeletal deformities. In adolescents and adults, vitamin D deficiency mainly affects already-formed bones during the remodeling process, meaning that bones begin to weaken (thus leading to osteoporosis).
Vitamin D is a necessary vitamin for human growth and development. Varying the ways of getting vitamin D into your system is very important (diet, supplements, exposure to sunlight, etc.). It is important to talk to your primary care doctor to make sure your diet and lifestyle are appropriately allowing for vitamin D production and synthesis to keep a happy and healthy body!
Information gathered from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/