Vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, shows how the sun, sitting 148.72 million km away, takes care of our health. It represents our intrinsic relationship with nature. And being away from it can be detrimental to our health and immunity.
Like we cannot undermine the importance of the sun for our earth, the same way you cannot ignore the benefits of vitamin D for our health and immunity.
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What is vitamin D – shedding light on the sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D was discovered in 1920 as a way to cure rickets – a painful bone disease.
It is classified as a fat-soluble vitamin. But, vitamin D is unique amongst the 13 known vitamins because technically vitamin D is not a vitamin.
Scientists define vitamins as organic chemicals that our body cannot produce and must be obtained from food.
In this sense, vitamin D is a rule breaker as your body cannot produce it by itself. Also, the role of vitamin D in our body makes it act more like a natural steroid hormone and less like a dietary aid.
Types of vitamin D
Vitamin D is not a single chemical but many. Although it is mainly divided into two types:
- Ergocalciferol – Vitamin D2
- Cholecalciferol – Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 is the active form of vitamin D. And its ability to raise the blood levels of vitamin D is twice as that of vitamin D2.
Sources of vitamin D
The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Our skin converts the sunlight into vitamin D using cholesterol. Our body can make up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D within 30 mins of sun exposure.
Food sources of vitamin D
- Vitamin D2 – Mushroom, yeast
- Vitamin D3 – Egg yolk, fatty fish
Now that we have a general idea about this special vitamin let’s see how greatly it impacts our body.
7 important benefits of vitamin D for our body and immunity
1. Vitamin D is the protector of our bones
Calcium needs no introduction. Everyone knows that it keeps our bones and teeth strong.
But that is not the only function of calcium. It also helps our muscles to contract (important for muscle strengthening) and our hearts to beat.
Your bones are the storehouse of calcium, storing 99% of the total calcium.
Remember, bones store the calcium but it doesn’t lock it. You are losing calcium every day through sweat, urine, and faeces. The body cannot make up for the loss on its own and depends on you to replenish it through a calcium-rich diet.
If you don’t give enough calcium through food then the body has to borrow more calcium from the bone than it can give back. If this happens too often, your bones will start getting weak and more prone to fractures.
But eating enough calcium is not the whole story. Your body cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D.
To maintain the calcium stores you need around 30% to 40% absorption of calcium. If you are deficient in vitamin D then your body will absorb a measly 10% to 15%. This makes vitamin D the protector of your bones.
2. Benefits of vitamin D for creating a smarter brain is outstanding
A healthy and well functioning brain is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. If you are not a brainless psycho you will always work towards enhancing your brain functions.
Think of the brain as muscles.
Like, to grow our muscles it is necessary to put them through strenuous exercises. Similarly, our brain needs to be worked hard to keep them healthy and functioning better.
We know that our muscles cannot get stronger without proper nutrition. In the same way, the brain needs particular nutrients for performing at its peak.
You can mindlessly eat whatever you want but your brain allows only select nutrients to pass through the blood-brain barrier. And, if you are deficient in those particular nutrients then the brain will go hungry.
One such important nutrient for your brain is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D protects and enhances brain activity. When the brain gets ample amounts of Vitamin D it will start producing new brain cells.
And, as more muscles mean a better body, likewise more brain cells mean a smarter brain. So, be smart and take care of your vitamin D.
3. Vitamin D boosts our immunity by keeping the flame of inflammation under control
Inflammation is your immune system’s response towards an injury or infection. It’s a part of your body’s healing process. It repairs the external damage and fights against internal invaders like bacterias and viruses.
After winning this fight your body starts to cool down by dropping back the inflammation to the normal level.
The problem arises when the inflammation remains up for a long term. This is called Chronic Systemic Inflammation.
Chronic – Longer than three months
Systemic – Widespread (throughout the body)
This elevated levels of inflammation, like a slow-burning flame, don’t let your body recover fully. Imagine, after a long stressful workday, how would you feel if you don’t get to relax in the evening?
The chronic inflammation will start attacking the internal organs, turning from a healer to a destroyer. This attack can cause cancer, thyroid, heart attack, stroke, asthma, arthritis.
A small dose of inflammation like a bonfire. It will keep you warm and protected from your surroundings. But, if that bonfire turns into a wildfire its flame can destroy a whole forest.
Chronic inflammation is that wildfire. And to control the wildfire you bring in the firefighter. Here, Vitamin D acts as firefighters. It plays an important role in bringing down the inflammation.
The optimum level of vitamin D signals the immune system that everything is ok and there is no need to keep up the panic situation.
But if you are deficient in vitamin D then it will fail to reduce the inflammation. Like, if the number of firefighters is less, they won’t be able to extinguish the fire completely.
Thus, Vitamin D is an important player in shaping our health.
4. It brings high blood pressure down to its place
High blood pressure or hypertension kills nearly 1.5 million people every year in South-East Asia, states senior surgeon, Dr Ramakanta Panda.
The statistics for hypertension are quite grim in India. One in every three Indian adults suffers from high blood pressure.
But a bigger problem is that many people are unaware that they are hypertensive. That’s why hypertension (or high blood pressure) is called the silent killer. And in 90% – 95% of the cases, the cause for high blood pressure is unknown.
It’s a serious health problem. If blood pressure remains high for long, it can cause heart diseases and stroke – leading causes of death in India.
You should do whatever you can to prevent or better manage your blood pressure. Apart from a healthy diet and regular workout, vitamin D has also shown to have a significant effect in controlling high blood pressure.
A study conducted at Boston University revealed a positive impact of vitamin D in normalizing high blood pressure.
When the participants with high blood pressure were exposed to sunlight for three months, their vitamin D levels increased 100%. This rise in vitamin D levels brought down their blood pressure to the normal levels. And even after 9 months, it remained normal.
Vitamin D achieves this impressive feat by decreasing the production of ‘renin’ hormone. Renin hormone plays a role in increasing blood pressure. By controlling the production of renin, vitamin D makes a critical contribution to keeping the blood pressure normal.
5. Vitamin D can be the secret to building muscles
This point is sufficient to convince most gym lovers about the importance of vitamin D. As we know, vitamin D is technically not a vitamin. It’s a prohormone which shows many pro-muscle-building properties.
There are two important ways by which vitamin D helps in improving your muscle strength and size.
1. It enhances your muscle-building activity
When you want to increase your muscle size and strength, your muscle protein synthesis (MPS) must be greater than your muscle protein breakdown (MPB). One is anabolic (muscle building) and the other is catabolic (muscle loss).
To build and strengthen muscles, the muscle-building process should exceed the muscle-loss process. Protein plays a prime role in making this happen.
But away from the limelight, sunshine vitamin is playing an important role in enhancing the protein’s muscle-building effect.
2. It increases testosterone levels in men
Testosterone is the male sex hormone responsible for muscle growth. You can eat as much protein as you want, but without testosterone, you will never be able to add muscles to your frame. And low testosterone levels can give you man boobs (gynecomastia).
One study showed that healthy male participants taking 3332 IU of vitamin D daily for a year had 25.2% more testosterone than the participants not taking any vitamin D.
Another study found that men with ample vitamin D levels had remarkably higher testosterone levels than men who had inadequate amounts of vitamin D in their blood.
Think about it, if you find that your workout and diet are on point but no visible results, then vitamin D can be the missing link.
6. Sunshine Vitamin can bring you out of depression
The stress of our modern lifestyle is taking its toll on our physical health as well as mental well being. The cases of depression in urban cities are on the rise, with little support and awareness to cope with it.
The cure for depression is multifactorial and correcting the nutritional deficiencies is one of them. There are studies linking depression with vitamin D deficiencies.
Winter blues – Researches are showing that the cases of depression occur more during the winter season when there is less sunlight (especially in colder regions) compared to summer or spring. It’s termed as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Low levels of vitamin D may not be the cause of depression but it can relieve the condition. Depression can be the cause of vitamin D deficiency. Like depressed people are less likely to go out and get enough sunlight.
The scientists have located vitamin D receptors in the same area of the brain that is linked with depression. This shows the ability of vitamin D to affect the mood.
Another way vitamin D can help with depression is through its testosterone boosting role. Low testosterone levels can cause clinical depression in men. Vitamin D can play a significant role in resolving this problem.
If correcting vitamin D deficiency can improve your mental health then I would say that it’s a simple and cost-effective solution.
7. It can reduce the risk of cancer
Imagine, you are sitting in the doctor’s chamber and your doctor is going through your recent reports. Then the last thing you want to hear from your doctor is the word ‘cancer’. It can be a debilitating and life-altering situation.
No one wants to be in that place. Yet the sad reality is that the incidences of cancer are on the rise.
Apart from the genetic factors, many types of cancers are associated with our lifestyle (lack of exercise, smoking, tobacco) and our diet.
This part is very much in your control. You better start taking the preventive measures before it’s too late.
The studies conducted on vitamin D’s effect on cancer prevention are looking promising.
Getting enough sunshine vitamin through sunlight or supplement can be one step in a positive direction.
India is a land blessed with abundant sunlight. This means that we should be brimming with vitamin D in our body.
But the statistics on sunshine vitamin paints a depressing picture. The reports of Indian studies show that between 50% to 94% of our population are deficient in vitamin D. These stats shows that we don’t realise the benefits of vitamin D.
Our modern indoor lifestyle is to blame for this, which prevents us from getting enough sunlight.
Even when we go out we are completely covering our body and face with clothes or sunscreen. The increased pollution also hinders the absorption of vitamin D.
There are many more reasons why we lack sunshine vitamin. In the next article, we will see how to check and correct vitamin D deficiency.
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