Vitamin D: Health Benefits to Disease Prevention
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a both a vitamin and a pro-hormone that is synthesised in the skin when in contact with sunlight, hence the nickname ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’.
Vitamin D exists in a few forms, the main being D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
Vitamin D is a essential vitamin that we all need at all stages of our lives, and has many necessary roles within our body.
Deficiencies in this vitamin are shown to have some major side effects and can leave you vulnerable to many diseases.
Vitamin D2 and D3 – Which one is better?
Vitamin D3 is more than 3 times more potent than vitamin D2 so this should be taken into consideration when buying a vitamin D supplement .
Do we get enough Vitamin D?
No probably not…We need from 2-3 hours of unprotected sun exposure per week, plus the darker your skin is the more you even need!
Michael Holick, director of the General Clinical Research Center at Boston University School of Medicine has stated that approximately one billion people in the world are vitamin D deficient or insufficient.
Plus the further away you live from the equator the more at risk you are of a deficiency. Canada, US, Northern Europe are areas with the most prominent vitamin D deficiencies, due to the lack of sun and the lack of being outdoors.
The overuse of sunscreens is also attributes to vitamin D deficiencies do to its blocking of UVB rays which are type of UV light that are needed to produce vitamin D.
How Much Vitamin D do we need?
According to most governments, the recommended amount is about 400 international units (IU) per day, but this has been met with conflict over the past few years with specialists, like Holick, saying that we actually need 800 to 1,000 (IU) of vitamin D per day.
If this requirement is not met, only 10 percent to 15 percent of dietary calcium and about 60 percent of phosphorus is absorbed by the body. This can have many drastic consequences.
Vitamin D has been associated with many widespread health benefits as its deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of many common cancers, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, cardiovascular heart disease, decreased Immune system and type I diabetes .
I will discuss some of its known and possible health benefits below.
Increases Immune System
It has been discovered recently that Vitamin D greatly up regulates the production of molecules called Antimicrobial peptides, the natural antibiotics produced by our bodies.
There are many types antimicrobial peptides in our body, some being specialised others being extremely broad spectrum, but all together they have great antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal action. Another good point is that antibiotic resistance is not much of an issue with these natural peptides.
The higher the amount of Antimicrobial peptides we produce, the less chance we have of getting sicknesses, including colds and flu .
Decreases risk of Cancer
A recent study in carried out in The Osteopososis Research Center at Creightnon University, Nebraska, found some startling findings about the anti cancer power of vitamin D (and Calcium).
The study was composed of 1,179 healthy women from rural Nebraska, were one group was given 1400–1500 mg of Calcium, an other group was given a combination of 1400–1500 mg of Calcium plus 1000 IU of vitamin D and another group was given a placebo.
At the end of the 4 year trial period, it was found that the Calcium supplementation mentioned above, reduced the risk of cancer in postmenopausal women by 47%.
The Calcium and Vitamin D supplementation mentioned above, ended up reducing the risk of cancer in postmenopausal women by a massive 60%. This is a huge decrease in cancer risk and we can see that the vitamin D seemed to help a great deal .
Through other studies conducted in St. Georges Hospital in London, it was found that women with low levels of vitamin D in their breast tissue had 4 times the risk of breast cancer incidence . Again, here we can see the importance of vitamin D.
Some more promising findings came from researchers at the State University of New York, Albany, were they showed that vitamin D can kill human breast cancer cells.
It was found that breast cancer cells have receptors for Vitamin D and when the vitamin D binds to the breast cancer cell it causes the cell to stop growing and die (apoptosis).
Their studies have also shown that Vitamin D treatment can induce established breast tumors to regress .
Prevention and Management of Osteoporosis
The number one nutrient we seem to associate with the bone disease Osteoporosis is Calcium, but never vitamin D.
Yes Calcium has an important role in Osteoporosis prevention, but Vitamin D is in fact also essential for proper bone health and strength.
Vitamin D promotes the absorption of Calcium and also regulates the concentrations of calcium in the blood and the amount to be deposited in bones and teeth.
Without sufficient amounts of vitamin D, bones can become brittle, thin and/or misshapen .
As I’ve mentioned above, If your vitamin D requirement is not met, only 10 percent to 15 percent of dietary calcium is absorbed by the body. This can have many drastic consequences so we can clearly see the need to get our proper amounts of vitamin D.
Possible Weight Loss Aid
A recent study conducted in the University of Minnesota showed that a persons level of vitamin D may be a predictor of his/her ability to lose fat.
The study included 38 obese men and women and results found that those with a higher intake of vitamin D had increased fat loss, especially in the abdominal area.
Dr. Shalamar Sibley, who ran this study, is pro vitamin D and suggested that “… if you start out with an inadequate vitamin D level, it’s possible that this might inhibit or impede your ability to lose weight on a reduced caloric diet” .
May Prevent Multiple Sclerosis
The devastating inflammatory disease Multiple Sclerosis is associated with the HLA-DRB1 gene, specifically the HLA-DRB1*15 allele of this gene, which is very common in people with MS especially in Northern Europe.
Recent studies have found that vitamin D specifically interacts with and helps to control HLA-DRB1*15 gene to influence its expression.
The results imply that vitamin D supplementation at critical time periods, especially during pregnancy or early life may be key to disease prevention, so the risk of the child developing the disease as an adult is reduced .
Prevention of Diabetes type 1
A recent observation by Hypponen et al showed that children receiving 2000 IU vitamin D from age 1 years on decreased their risk of getting type 1 diabetes by 80% .
Vitamin D supplementation in early childhood may offer protection against the development of type 1 diabetes.
Other trials have demonstrated that supplementation with vitamin D can improve blood glucose levels in diabetics . Overall it seems that dose dependent Vitamin D supplementation from and early age may prevent Diabetes type 1 and it even may be of benefit to individuals with diabetes.
May reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Many studies have proposed that vitamin D is involved in cardiovascular diseases, the biggest killers in the US, and have supplied evidence that it has a role in reducing cardiovascular disease risk .
- Sun Exposure - 2-3 hours of unprotected sun per week, more if you have darker skin.
- Vitamin Supplements
- Food containing Vitamin D
Cod liver oil
Cereals fortified with vitamin D
Have you experienced any health benefits from taking vitamin D?
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 Holick, M.F. (2005). Vitamin D: Important for Prevention of Osteoporosis, Cardiovascular Heart Disease, Type 1 Diabetes, Autoimmune Diseases, and Some Cancers. Southern Medical Journal, 98, 10: 1024-1026.
 Schwalfenber, G.K. (2011). A review of the critical role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system and the clinical implications of vitamin D deﬁciency. Mol. Nutr. Food Res, 55, 96–108.
 Lappe, J.M., Travers-Gustafson, D., Davies, K.M., Recker, R.R. and Heaney, R.P. (2007) Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85, 6: 1586-1591.
 Colston, K.W., Lowe, L.C., Mansi, J.L. and Campbell, M.J. (2006). Vitamin D Status and Breast Cancer Risk. Anticancer Research, 26, 2573-2580.
 Ramagopalan, S.V., Maugeri, N.J., Handunnetthi, L., Lincoln, M.R., Orton, S.-M., et al. (2009) Expression of the Multiple Sclerosis-Associated MHC Class II Allele HLA-DRB1*1501 Is Regulated by Vitamin D. PLoS Genet, 5, 2: e1000369.
 Hypponen, E., Laara, E., Jarvelin, M.-R., Virtanen, S.M. (2001). Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study. Lancet. 358:1500–3.
 Armin Zitterman (2003). Vitamin D in preventive medicine: are we ignoring the evidence? British Journal of Nutrition, 89: 552-572.
 Garcia, V.C. and Martini, L.A. (2010). Vitamin D and Cardiovascular Disease Nutrients, 2, 4: 426-437.