Vitamin D is probably the most overlooked nutrient because most people think that they get plenty of it from sunlight. But the truth is that vitamin D deficiency is quite common with over 1 billion people having lower than normal levels.
A shocking 2011 study showed that over 41.6 per cent Americans are deficient in this vitamin – and the problem gets even worse as you move to countries with less sunshine. So what exactly is vitamin D and do we really need it?
We’ve all heard about the importance of calcium in keeping our bones healthy, but what really helps the absorption of this nutrient in our body is vitamin D.
In other words, vitamin D is as important as calcium for bone health. Unlike other nutrients which are usually acquired through food, vitamin D can actually be produced inside our body whenever we get exposure to sunlight. There are certain foods which are fortified with vitamin D to boost your intake when you’re not getting enough sun.
All mammals, including humans, need vitamin D. A deficiency in this nutrient can result in softer and weaker bones especially in growing children who can suffer from symptoms in the form of rickets and adults in the form of osteomalacia.
Sources of Vitamin D
A number of foods are abundant in vitamin D including fish, tuna, cod, salmon and mackerel. Vegetarians and vegans can get their vitamin D intake through fortified foods like cereals, orange juice and plant-based milks. There are also a number of over-the-counter supplements on the market that can fulfill you vitamin D requirement.
However, many researchers are skeptical of their usefulness since most of the synthetic supplements contain a much higher quantity of vitamin D than the general requirement. But probably the best and the easiest way to get this nutrient into your system is through exposure to sunlight.
Dr. Clifford Rosen from Tufts University School of Medicine says that it’s better to get vitamin D from sunlight than from supplements or food because it is much better absorbed in our body – and the best part is that sunlight is free. When you’re out in the sun, you’re less likely to absorb too much vitamin D because your body only takes what it needs.
According to experts, only 10 to 30 minutes of regular exposure to the sun can fulfill you daily vitamin D requirement. Research also shows that our bodies make this vitamin more efficiently at noon when sun’s UVB rays are the most intense.
On the other hand, it can be possible to take too much vitamin D through supplements. Most brands contain containing 5,000 to 10,000 units of the vitamin per dosage which is much higher than the recommended amount.
Vitamin D benefits
The biggest benefit of vitamin D is that it facilitates the absorption of calcium to keep bones strong. In addition, it also reduces the risk of a number of health complications such as hypertension, cancer and osteoporosis.
Some researchers even say that benefits of vitamin D are marginal at best which is why its supplements are unnecessary and the effects of taking any more of this nutrient than required are going to be very insignificant.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause a number of symptoms such as weakness in muscle and bone, higher risk of injury or fractures, especially in older adults.
In children the problem can manifest itself in a much serious condition called rickets which causes bones to become soft. When scientists first found out that rickets is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D in the early 1900, they began creating foods fortified with the vitamin to reduce the severity of the disease.
Vitamin D deficiency doesn’t develop out of nowhere. People who don’t go out often or don’t have a healthy diet are more likely show symptoms of deficiency. But most of the people get sufficient amount of this vitamin through their diet and sun exposure. Almost 10 per cent of the people who go into clinics for routine checkups are tested positive with vitamin D deficiency, even though they don’t feel any signs or symptoms of it.