How important is the sunshine vitamin to our general health?
Vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced in the skin in response to sunlight. While we all learned in elementary school how important it is for developing strong bones and teeth, and most senior citizens are constantly reminded that they should take a vitamin D supplement (along with their calcium) to help prevent osteoporosis, vitamin D has many other important purposes.
Because of the complexity of substances (including vitamins, minerals, and hormones) that interact to make the body function at optimal levels, it is essential to have a board-certified physician who understands the myriad connections among them and who is able to administer the appropriate doses of each to keep your body in balance.
The Functions of Vitamin D
Apart from regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, which not only helps to prevent osteoporosis, but also the softening of bones (osteomalacia), vitamin D performs the following significant functions:
- Maintaining a normal immune system to help the body fight disease
- Fighting depression and anxiety, regulating moods
- Assisting in weight loss when taken with calcium
- Helping to prevent heart disease
Several studies have attested to these benefits of vitamin D. In addition, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2006 points to evidence suggesting that vitamin D reduces your risk of developing multiple sclerosis, and findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 attest to the fact that vitamin D reduces your likelihood of developing the flu. Another interesting research study demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency was discernibly more common in fibromyalgia patients who were experiencing anxiety and depression.
How the Body Gets the Vitamin D It Needs
As mentioned, exposure to sunlight is a significant source of vitamin D. Only a small amount of exposure, about 10 minutes of mid-day sun, is necessary for individuals with fair skin. Dark-skinned people require more time in the sun to produce sufficient vitamin D.
Some food sources also provide vitamin D naturally, such as salmon, sardines, egg yolks, and shrimp. Other foods, such as milk, cereal, orange juice and yogurt, are fortified with vitamin D to help meet our dietary needs.
Reasons for Vitamin D Deficiency
Many factors of modern life tend to deprive of us our necessary quota of vitamin D. For one thing, our depleted ozone layer puts us at increased risk of skin cancer, which has wisely prompted the extensive use of sunscreen. While protecting us from skin cancer, however, sunscreen decreases our absorption of vitamin D. Also, the modern tendency to spend more time indoors and in urban environments in which tall buildings block sunlight makes us more prone to vitamin D deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Fatigue, aches and pains, malaise
- Severe bone or muscle pain or weakness
- Stress fractures, especially in the legs, hips, or pelvis
If you are experiencing such symptoms, it is important to have a full work-up, including blood tests for vitamin D deficiency and other abnormalities in order to get an accurate diagnosis, especially since these symptoms may be linked to other underlying causes. A knowledgeable clinician who works routinely to keep the body in balance for optimal health will be able to diagnose and treat any imbalances you may be suffering from.