Why is Vitamin D Important?

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Why is Vitamin D Important?
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Why is Vitamin D Important?

Why is Vitamin D Important?

It has long been known that vitamin D has several important functions related to the health of bones and teeth. However, in addition to its long recognised role in regulating calcium and phosphate in the blood to support bone mineralisation, it is also thought to play an important part in many other processes within the body too. These include regulating cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, as well as aiding reduction of inflammation.

According to a group of experts that advises the UK Government about nutrition (the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) there is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D may be important in preventing other diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis. Further research is needed in this area before firm links can be established between a lack of vitamin D and these conditions, but clearly this vitamin plays a vital role in many functions throughout the body and the extent of its importance is only now just beginning to be revealed.

Sources of Vitamin D

Without doubt the best source of vitamin D comes from sunlight on the skin. The vitamin is made by the body in reaction to a type of ultraviolet ray called UVB. UVB rays are more powerful in the summer, and experts advise exposing the skin to regular, short periods of sun during the summer months. Of course sunscreen blocks UVB rays. It has been reported that sunscreen with an SPF of 15 can reduce the capacity to synthesize vitamin D by as much as 98 percent. It is therefore important to allow some exposure without any sunscreen whilst at the same time ensuring that the skin does not burn.

Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is also present in a small number of foods, but it is difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone. Some non-vegetarian/vegan sources of vitamin D include oily fish (such as salmon and sardines) as well as eggs. In addition, there are a number of products such as spreads and breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin D.

Forms of Vitamin D

Several forms of vitamin D exist, but the two major forms are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).

Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) occurs naturally in the skin of animals and in milk. It is also the form of the vitamin that is made within the human body as a result of exposure of the skin to UV rays, as described above. Recently a plant form of vitamin D3 has been isolated and this has been marketed as Vitashine D3 by ESB Developments. This is used in specific products such as Opti3.

Vitamin D2 is produced by some organisms of phytoplankton, yeasts, and fungi such as mushrooms in response to UV irradiation. It is therefore the form of vitamin D that has long been used in supplements suitable for vegans such as the popular vegan vitamin D supplements shown below.

Deva Vitamin D 800iuVeganicity Vitamin D 800iuDeva Vitamin D 2400iu

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

The most widely recognised symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are bones becoming thin and more brittle. In extreme cases the bones can become misshapen and severe deficiency in children can lead to rickets, a condition where the bones become softer, leading to fractures and bone deformity. Similarly softening of the bones resulting from a lack of vitamin D in adults is called osteomalacia. This can cause pain and muscle weakness.

Vitamin D - Bone Density

At the start of 2012 there were a series of media reports highlighting research that showed a quarter of all toddlers in the UK were found to be deficient in vitamin D and that the incidence of childhood rickets was increasing. However, whilst it would appear to be the case that a relatively high proportion of children do not get enough vitamin D, rickets is still a rare disease in the UK.

Relatively little is yet known about the impact of low-level deficiency of vitamin D and there is still a lot of ongoing research examining the various other functions vitamin D might perform in the body. It is therefore thought by many that supplementation of this important vitamin is a wise precaution.

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, contacted health professionals in 2012 to highlight the need to recommend vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups. This advice was that vitamin D tablets are particularly advisable for the following people:

  • pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • children aged under 5 years old
  • people aged 65 or over
  • people who are not exposed to much sun (such as people who cover up their skin when outdoors or those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods)
  • people who have darker skin, such as people of African, African Caribbean and south Asian origin, because their bodies are less able to produce as much vitamin D.

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Why is Vitamin D Important?

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