There’s no denying our love for a warm sunny day, but time spent outdoors does more than boost your mood. Once thought to only benefit bone health, it is now well known that vitamin D is required for a wide range of functions, including your cells’ ability to communicate.
Maintaining optimal levels is essential when aiming to prevent conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s, as a deficiency makes you more prone to disease. Because vitamin D is produced by sun exposure, you may assume that vitamin D deficiency would not be common; however, an estimated one billion individuals around the globe do not have adequate levels of the “sunshine vitamin.”
You need vitamin D — here’s why
It’s clear that vitamin D is important, but how important is it? What makes it so vital? Although humans are capable of producing vitamin D, exposure to sunlight is required. You can also source vitamin D from supplements and a few foods within your diet.
Once converted into a useable form (known as the hormonally active metabolite 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D), vitamin D protects everything from your bones to your gut. It’s estimated that approximately 40 percent of the American population suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, whereas up to 82 percent of African Americans are deficient.
Report: The Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Diabetes
Due to rickets in children, it was found in 1822 that the sun could boost bone health. Without vitamin D, your bones will not readily absorb essential calcium and phosphorus. Although rickets is no longer a common condition within the United States, a vitamin D deficiency can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis.
Since vitamin D regulates bone metabolism, a deficiency is associated with a decrease in bone mineral density, increasing your risk of fractures. Also, a lack of vitamin D increases the production of the parathyroid hormone (PTH), causing further bone loss.
Within more recent years, vitamin D has been analyzed based on its effects outside of bone health. Over the last decade or so, it’s become evident that vitamin D influences brain development, acting as a neuroactive steroid. Throughout the literature, early deficiencies have been linked to conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive conditions.
Animal studies have offered plenty of vital information, showing that dopamine is susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies. A lack of vitamin D is also believed to affect serotonin levels, influencing social behaviors, such as those associated with autism. Research has shown that this vitamin also activates the gene that influences an enzyme that converts tryptophan to serotonin.
Muscle fatigue is also a fairly common symptom of vitamin D deficiency. Researchers discovered that vitamin D levels are, in fact, linked to muscle efficiency and that muscle aerobic metabolism improves with supplementation. It’s believed that vitamin D influences mitochondria, as muscle cells require ample amounts of ATP, an energy-rich molecule.
Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is a significant cause of mortality. In terms of vitamin D, deficiencies have been linked to hypertension and diabetes, as well as markers of atherosclerosis. Two reasons why vitamin D deficiencies may influence cardiovascular disease include vitamin D receptors on the heart and blood vessels, and the risk factors, such as the thickening of heart muscle, that a deficiency may cause.
It’s been found that vitamin D receptors are also expressed on immune cells, such as B cells, T cells and antigen-presenting cells. The metabolite of vitamin D can be synthesized by these immune cells, influencing immune responses. Amazingly, vitamin D receptors are also found in bone marrow, colon, brain, breast and a number of other cells.
Those who are deficient are at risk for increased autoimmunity, as well as a higher susceptibility to infection. In fact, vitamin D was used to treat conditions such as tuberculosis before the use of antibiotics emerged. A link has also been made between vitamin D deficiencies and autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Through the months of April to October, it’s suggested that if you expose your hands, face and arms to sunlight for five to 10 minutes, two to three times a week, your body will produce enough vitamin D to maintain biological functions. With that being said, you can also get vitamin D from supplements (to a lesser degree), as well as cod liver oil, sardines, herring, salmon, shellfish and small amounts from beef liver and eggs.
Krista Hillis is passionate about nutrition, mental health, and sustainable practices. She has her Bachelors in Psychology and Neuroscience and is still active in her research. Studying both the body and mind, she focuses on natural health and balance. Krista enjoys writing based on her ability to inspire others and increase overall awareness.