Vitamin D is a pro-hormone that is synthesized in the body when exposed to sunlight, and hence, is called the sunshine vitamin. It is a group of vitamins, including calciferol (Vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), found mainly in liver and fish oils. It plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium, and hence benefits the body in several ways.
Vitamin D benefits
- Plays a major role in improving bone health since it is necessary for the absorption of calcium in the body
- Improves immunity, along with brain and nervous system
- Plays a role in regulating insulin levels, and hence, helps in the management of Type 2 Diabetes
- Helps in the improvement of lung function and cardiovascular health
- Also plays an important role in the management of obesity
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the deficiency of Calcium. This is mainly due to the fact that the body needs the vitamin to absorb Calcium. Without enough of it, one can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol. This, in turn, leads to insufficient calcium absorption from the diet. In situations like this, the body is forced to turn to the skeleton for its supply of the mineral. Eventually, this causes existing bones to get weakened and prevents the formation of a strong, new bone in children.
The 25(OH)D or the 25-hydroxyvitamin D is the most efficient way to monitor the Vitamin D levels. The amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in one’s blood is the best indicator of the levels of the vitamin in the body. 30-100 ng/ml(nanograms per millilitre) is the recommended amount in a healthy human body. In case this number drops to below 20 ng/ml, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
- Lowered immunity
- Pain in the bones
- Fatigue and weakness
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
Vitamin D deficiency risk factors
The following factors can increase your risk of deficiency of this invaluable nutrient:
Ideally, one must spend at least 20 minutes each day out in the sun. Anything less than that could lead to a deficiency of Vitamin D in the body. On the other hand, you must take care to not spend too much time out in the sun since that could lead to overexposure to the Ultraviolet B rays. Additionally, the use of sunscreen whenever one steps out in the sun can be a major factor in the risk of deficiency. While it can block out the harmful Ultraviolet B rays, it also hinders the production of Vitamin D in one’s skin
People living closer to the equator are bound to be more exposed to the sun, eventually leading to the production of Vitamin D in their bodies. Similarly, the ones living at higher latitudes see a lower production of the body. In a country like India, the people staying closer to the Himalayas will have less Vitamin D produced in their bodies but the ones living in the South will have much higher amounts of the vitamin.
As you grow older, the ability of your body to produce this all-important nutrient drops. Thus, there is a pretty significant drop in Vitamin D levels for older people.
People with excess body fat levels are seen to have very little of the vitamin in their bodies. Therefore, overweight or obese people have a much higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
Overcoming Vitamin D deficiency
The following methods can help increase the vitamin content in the body and thus overcome a deficiency of the nutrient:
- It is recommended that one spends 20 minutes in the sun every day in order to overcome Vitamin D deficiency. This can be clubbed with an outdoor workout or a daily walk.
- Make sure you include Vitamin D rich foods like mushroom, fish, egg yolk and fortified cereals in your diet. In addition to this, have enough calcium through dairy and eggs.
- In case the vitamin levels in your body are still low, turning to Vitamin D supplements is still an option. However, this must be done only after consulting with your doctor or a certified nutritionist.
- Applying sunscreen tends to block the sun from hitting your body, thus limiting the synthesis of the vitamin in your body. It is best to allow the sun’s UVB rays to hit the body in order to allow the production of Vitamin D to take place.
Vitamin D foods
In the present day and age, most cases of Vitamin D deficiency are due to a lack of exposure to sunlight. Therefore, the best way to improve its intake is through sunlight. However, the consumption of certain foods can surely help increase vitamin levels in the body.
While they may not be the most impressive sources of Vitamin D, both red meat and poultry do contain the vitamin. That said, organ meat is probably the best way to boost your intake of this essential nutrient.
Apart from fortified foods, few varieties of mushroom are the only plant sources of Vitamin D. Just like humans, mushrooms synthesize the vitamin when exposed to sunlight.
While most types of fish have the vitamin, the more oily or fatty fish are likely to contain more Vitamin D than the less oily ones. Salmon, trout, mackerel, and tuna are amongst the most popular fish that are rich in the vitamin.
The protein source in an egg may be the whites but the yolks are just as important. The yolk of the egg also contains Vitamin D, just like other vitamins and minerals.
There is very less Vitamin D content available in natural food sources. However, certain foods are fortified with the nutrient. Several foods and beverages are fortified with the vitamin across the world. Orange juice, milk, cereal, and oatmeal are the best examples of the same.
Vitamin D and Sunlight
Exposing your skin to the sun for 20 minutes a day would ensure enough Ultraviolet B rays hit the cholesterol in the skin, thus, providing the energy for Vitamin D synthesis to take place.
Ideally, one must look to go out at around midday since this is when the sun is at its highest and the UVB rays are the most intense. Studies have shown that the hours between 11 am and 2 pm are the best to promote the synthesis of the vitamin in India.
As important as it is to expose one’s skin to the sun for the production of this nutrient, overexposure can be just as harmful. Here are a few consequences of too much sunlight:
- These are the most common side-effects of too much sunlight. Symptoms of the same include redness, swelling accompanied by pain or tenderness and blisters.
- Too much time out in the sun can cause your skin to age a lot faster. It can cause your skin to grow more wrinkled, loose or leathery.
- Excess exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause damage to one’s retina. This increases the risk of problems in the eyes like cataracts.
- Too much heat or exposure to the sun can cause the body’s core temperature to rise.
Vitamin D and Weight Loss
A less commonly known fact is the connection between Vitamin D and weight loss. A shortage of the vitamin decreases serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects everything in the body from one’s mood to sleep regulation. Thus, we see increased levels of cortisol production. Eventually, this slows down one’s weight loss or even causes the person to hit a weight loss plateau.
The right amount of Vitamin D in one’s body helps aid weight loss by altering the storage and formation of fat cells and increasing the serotonin and testosterone levels in the body. It helps keep hormone levels in check, which also may help enhance weight loss and decrease body fat.
While sunlight may be the best source of the vitamin in the body, certain Vitamin D rich foods can also boost the levels of the nutrient in your body. In case of deficiency, one can take supplements for the same after consulting with a doctor or a certified nutritionist.