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Vitamin D: A Need Americans Must Meet

8 min read

Essential Takeaways

  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey put the average prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency at 41.6% in 2005-2006
  • Vitamin D, otherwise referred to as the “the Sunshine Vitamin” is a steroid which acts behaves like a hormone
  • Vitamin D controls the functions of more than 200 genes in the body and is crucial for growth and development

Recent scientific evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency could have a significant role to play in several serious health complications such as heart disease and cancer. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey put the average prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency at 41.6% in 2005-2006. Black people registered the highest prevalence at 82.1% followed by the 69.2% registered by Hispanics. 

Vitamin D deficiency was notably more prevalent among those with no college education, were overweight, and had poor general health, were hypertensive, had low levels of cholesterol or did not consume milk each day. Vitamin D deficiency was found to be generally common in Americans, particularly among Hispanics and blacks. Only 3 percent of 3,149 African Americans studied in 2004 demonstrated the recommended levels. This was in sharp contrast to the 12 percent out of 5,362 studied in the prior two decades.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D, otherwise referred to as the “the Sunshine Vitamin” is a steroid which acts behaves like a hormone. It can be formed in the body with mild exposure to the sun or ingested in food or vitamin supplements. In the body, it is produced when Cholesterol on the skin is converted into calciol by the sun (vitamin D3). Calciol is then synthesized into calcidiol in the liver. The kidneys then synthesize calcidiol into vitamin D’s active form known as calcitriol. This means that medications or supplements that limit the synthesis of cholesterol and the functioning of the kidneys and liver can limit vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D controls the functions of more than 200 genes in the body and is crucial for growth and development. Vitamin D exists in two forms: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). 50 to 90 percent of the body’s levels of vitamin D is generated when the skin is exposed to sunlight while the rest is derived from the diet. Still, food sources of vitamin D include fortified dairy products, egg yolk, beef liver and fatty fish. Sufficient intake of vitamin D is needed to regulate the absorption of phosphorous and calcium, maintain healthy teeth and bones, and protect the body from various illnesses and conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

The impact of vitamin D deficiency on health

Vitamin D deficiency is rather widespread particularly in infants, the elderly, dark-skinned people and people who get limited exposure to the sun. It has been reported in up to 80% of patients with hip fracture. A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to hypertension, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and neurodegenerative such as autism. It may also culminate in the development of some types of cancers.

Available research suggests that the deficiency of vitamin D is significant in the development of seventeen strains of cancer and cardiac disease, complications, autoimmune conditions, periodontal disease and birth defects. Generally, insufficient Vitamin D3 could mean a degradation of the immune system thereby impairing neuromuscular function and affecting mood. Also, the brain’s protection against toxic chemicals could be jeopardized. 

The benefits of vitamin D to the body

Vitamin D enhances weight loss

People taking a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement lost more weight than those who took a placebo supplement. This is because of the appetite-suppressing effect of the supplements.

Vitamin D helps fight depression

Vitamin D regulates mood and wards off depression. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to be more common in anxiety and depression patients.

Promotes optimal health.

Unlike other vitamins that can only be absorbed from food, vitamin D can also be produced by the body when the skin is exposed to the sunshine. This limited availability in the human diet, coupled with the fact that most people are not sufficiently exposed to the sun, explains why approximately 41.6% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. However, having sufficient blood levels of vitamin D offers many important health benefits.

Vitamin D promotes development of healthy bones Vitamin D also regulates calcium and helps to maintain phosphorus levels in the blood. It also absorbs calcium in the intestines salvages calcium that would otherwise be excreted through the kidneys.

Reducing the risk of diabetes

Insufficient levels of vitamin D levels may have a negative impact on secretion of insulin and glucose tolerance.

Enhances Muscle Strength

Recent studies have established a relationship between vitamin D and muscle growth and strength, in both adults and the elderly. Daily doses of 20–25 mcg sufficiently led to muscle improvements in the elderly. However, individuals who had low vitamin D levels to begin with showed the greatest improvement. Nonetheless, studies have illustrated that stronger doses may be needed to indicate any improvements in muscle strength in younger people.

Prevention and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition involving the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Some studies have found that sufficient levels of vitamin D 1can reduce the risk of MS an estimated 62%. MS patients who maintain high levels of vitamin D may be able to slow down the development of their condition.

Promotes the health of infants

Low vitamin D status has been linked to a higher proneness and seriousness of atopic childhood conditions and allergic illnesses, such as asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis. Vitamin D could potentially promote the anti-inflammatory consequences of glucocorticoids. This makes it a potentially appropriate supportive therapy for steroid-resistant asthma patients.

Promotes healthy pregnancy

Expectant women experiencing vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk of contracting preeclampsia hence requiring a cesarean section during delivery. Such women are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes mellitus and bacterial vaginosis. It is also important to note, however, that extremely high levels of vitamin D during pregnancy may lead to an increase in the occurrence of food allergy of the child during the first two years of life.

Prevention of Cancer

Vitamin D is extremely essential for monitoring the growth of cells and to facilitate communication between cells. Available research has suggested that calcitriol can lower the rate of development of cancer. Calcitriol slows the growth and development of new blood vessels in cancerous tissue and reduces proliferation and metastases of cells and this enhances the death of cancer cells. Vitamin D is significant in the functioning of 200 human genes and this may be affected when the levels of the vitamin is below optimum.

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