Vitamin D is essential to good health and is unique for several different reasons. Here are five facts about vitamin D that may persuade you to order vitamin D supplements:
Vitamin D Aids Calcium Absorption
Unlike many nutrients that fuel the body with energy, the primary role of vitamin D is to aid the body in using other nutrients. Specifically, vitamin D must undergo two transformations once it enters the body to become chemically active.
First, the liver converts vitamin D into calcidiol. Once vitamin D reaches this phase, the kidneys convert calcidiol into calcitriol. In this form, vitamin D helps the digestive tract absorb calcium from food and supplements.
Moreover, vitamin D aids bone remodeling. The body’s bones are constantly being rebuilt. Vitamin D helps with both bone resorption (the breaking down of bone tissue for rebuilding) and ossification (the building up of new bone tissue). During ossification, vitamin D is necessary for calcification, the process of depositing calcium into bone tissue’s matrix. Without this deposition, our bones will lack the strength they need to support our weight.
Vitamin D Deficiency Causes Bone Problems
Since vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, a lack of vitamin D consumption causes a deficiency of calcium. In other words, when there is insufficient vitamin D in the body, the absorption of calcium can drop from as high as 80% to as low as 15%. In children, this causes rickets; in adults, this causes osteomalacia. In both cases, bones can become brittle and fracture. Rickets and osteomalacia can also cause bones to become thin and soft, which results in bent or misshapen bones since they cannot support the body’s weight.
Vitamin D is Only Available From a Few Sources
Despite how essential vitamin D is, and how dire a deficiency of vitamin D can be, vitamin D is only found in a few natural sources. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, as well as egg yolks and beef liver can provide vitamin D. While milk is supplemented with vitamin D, vitamin D naturally occurs in only very small amounts in dairy products.
The most common source of vitamin D is actually sunlight, making vitamin D particularly unique. The skin synthesizes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Specifically, the body produces the precursor of vitamin D, called 7-dehydrocholesterol. When ultraviolet B radiation in sunlight strikes the skin, it is converted into the form of vitamin D usable by the body.
Some People Need More Vitamin D
While everyone needs vitamin D, some benefit from more vitamin D. For example, infants often require additional vitamin D because they are not exposed to much sunlight due to their sensitive skin. They also cannot eat dietary sources of vitamin D such as fish, eggs, and beef liver at such a young age. In fact, this deficiency can cause problems later in life since infants require vitamin D for bone growth and to avoid rickets.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, seniors can also benefit from additional vitamin D. Since seniors often spend less time outdoors than younger adults, they need more supplements to ensure healthy calcium absorption. Additionally, their skin does not synthesize vitamin D as efficiently, leading to lower levels of vitamin D. However, some studies suggest that increased levels of vitamin D and calcium can reduce the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis in this population. Thus, many seniors order vitamin D supplements and order calcium supplements for osteoporosis.
People who avoid the sun (such as those concerned with skin cancer, skin conditions, and other sun-related medical issues) also need more vitamin D. Since skin requires ultraviolet light to synthesize vitamin D, sunscreen can reduce the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D by as much as 98%. Additionally, glass windows can prevent the skin from producing vitamin D from sunlight altogether.
Since many of the natural sources of vitamin D are animal products, vegetarians and vegans must often order vitamin D supplements to maintain healthy levels.
Vitamin D May Have Other Benefits
While more scientific study is needed, some evidence suggests that vitamin D may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Moreover, vitamin D may have some role in reducing the risks associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis. Although vitamin D has many health benefits, scientists recommend taking vitamin D supplements during the days since vitamin D can cause insomnia or exacerbate insomnia in the 45% of Americans who have trouble falling asleep.
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