Two decades ago vitamin D wasn’t a much talked about vitamin, but now, the increasing number of diseases ranging from common colds to allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and cancers, have compelled us to research more about this vitamin. It stands out as one of the most crucial vitamins for disease prevention. However, currently vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in both children and adults and that too with alarmingly low levels.
Vitamin D, also described as “the sunshine vitamin” is actually not a vitamin. It functions as a steroid with hormone-like activity. There are two forms of Vitamin D: D2 and D3. When we look at deficiency in our body, we are specifically talking about D3.
The role of vitamin D in our body
Every cell in our body, right from our head to our bones have vitamin D receptors on their surface. It is responsible for regulating functions of over 200 genes in our body. Hence its deficiency can lead to a variety of diseases and should not be taken lightly.
- It is responsible for the growth and strength of our bones and teeth
- It prevents arthritis as well as osteoporosis
- It maintains immunity and helps control the progress of autoimmune diseases.
- It is responsible for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus
- Vitamin D deficiency is associated with four of the most common cancers: breast, prostate, colon and ovary. Calcitriol [the hormonally active form of vitamin D] inhibits the growth of many cancerous cells by arresting the cell’s replication cycle. It has also been found that vitamin D suppresses aromatase, the enzyme that assists with estrogen synthesis in breast cancer cells. Sufficient levels of this vitamin may reduce your risk of breast cancer by 83 per cent!
- It plays a part in the production of sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Low vitamin D levels can decrease libido, hamper mood and cause fertility issues. Due to this, it is also known as the “sexiest vitamin”
- Its deficiency is responsible for metabolic syndrome, obesity, hypertension, insulin deficiency and insulin resistance
- It improves neuromuscular performance in older people and prevents neuro-degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease
- It plays an important role in combating depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and mood swings
- It reduces the risk of autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and IBS.
- It prevents birth defects
- It helps with pain management and protects the brain against toxic chemicals.
What has changed over the years to cause this epidemic?
It’s our lifestyle. Today we all lead a life that constantly depletes our vitamin D levels, or prevents adequate absorption.
- Aerated drinks, smoking, excessive tea and coffee, overuse of synthetic laxatives, diuretics, cholesterol medications, chronic stress, junk and processed food, fad diets and exercise programmes, lack of exercise and lack of calcium are some common causes of vitamin D depletion.
- Excessive use of sunscreens, sun blocking agents, shying away from the sun, staying indoors always and never exposing your skin to the sun by wearing extensive clothing all the time can also cause deficiency in this vitamin. It’s important to understand that we need sunlight for growth, immunity and vitamin D. What we don’t need is sunscreen that reacts with sunlight and produces toxic carcinogens that the skin then absorbs. Most sunscreens cause more harm than good and there are absolutely no statistics to prove that it protects our skin from cancer. It’s our immunity that protects us from cancer and for that we need vitamin D from sunlight.
- Poor gut health is a cause too. Many of us are unable to eat the foods that contain vitamin D because of food allergies or sensitivities. Or even if we do or consume supplements, it’s not getting absorbed the right way.
How to improve and maintain optimum vitamin D levels
- A daily exposure to sunshine helps the human body manufacture the required amount of vitamin D. The best time to soak up the sunlight is between 10am – 3pm. One can make it a point to expose for 20 minutes daily and be sure that you are not covered from head to toe when being exposed to the sun. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to adjust timings accordingly to avoid harsh rays.
- Ensure proper calcium and vitamin K2 levels. Vitamin D3 is needed for calcium absorption and vice versa. Similarly, our body needs a balance between D3 and K2. Vitamin K2 is responsible for helping the calcium in foods to travel to the correct locations in bone tissue.
- Eat good fats. Don’t be scared of cholesterol. You need good fats and good cholesterol to be able to convert sunshine into vitamin D.
- Keep your liver and kidney clean and functioning. A properly functioning liver and kidney is needed for the efficient activation of vitamin D in the body. Our liver is responsible for converting D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D which is further converted to calcitriol, which is the active form of vitamin D and fully usable by our body.
- Consume foods rich in vitamin D like egg yolk, fortified organic milk, mushrooms, oysters, cod liver oil and fatty fish. All of these are to be consumed in moderation.
- If your levels are way too low, a supplementation might be necessary. Choose a good quality supplement that has a better bioavailability. Aim at keeping your levels within the range, but close than the highest limit.
Having said this, it’s important to check your levels regularly and instead of just looking at supplements and ways to increase your D3 levels,be conscious of what depletes D3 levels from the body. Sometimes even the most complicated diseases and pain can be set right by giving the human body what it needs, the right amount of vitamins, trace minerals which one can get through a balanced lifestyle.
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