Have you gotten your daily dose of “D”? As many as 3/4 of US teens and adults may be deficient in vitamin D, the only vitamin that our bodies can synthesize from sun exposure. Here are five important reasons why you need more vitamin D.
May Improve Heart Health
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of developing heart disease, according to findings published in Circulation. In one recent study, the American Heart Association has linked low vitamin D levels in stroke patients to more severe strokes and poor health after the incident. While researchers admit it is “too early to draw conclusions” from this small study, if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke it may benefit you to talk to a medical professional about testing your vitamin D levels.
May Improve Mental Health
Vitamin D is synthesized when your skin gets sun exposure. This has led to speculation from experts that the lack of sunshine and subsequent vitamin D deficiencies in colder, darker climates, or during winter months, could be a contributing factor to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In 2014, researchers stated that vitamin D deficiency may be more than just one of many factors leading to SAD; it may, in fact, have a “regulative role in the development of SAD.” Up to 10% of the population suffers from SAD every year, beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter months. Researchers believe that naturally fluctuating levels of vitamin D in response to seasonally available sunlight can impact the synthesis and serotonin – compounds whose low levels are linked to depression.
Vitamin D levels can impact mental health year round, and not just in the winter months. A study from Oregon State University found that young women with lower levels of vitamin D were more likely to suffer from clinically significant depression symptoms. Researchers looked at women in the Pacific Northwest because of their higher risks of both vitamin D deficiency and depression. (25% of women are likely to suffer from depression in their lives compared to 16% of men.)
May Reduce Your Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that effects the central nervous system. With MS, the body’s immune system directs itself against the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that make up the central nervous system. Symptoms of MS can include fatigue, weakness, numbness, dizziness, pain, changes to cognitive brain function, emotional changes, depression, and even seizures.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2006 looked at more than seven million serum samples, and found that higher serum levels of vitamin D were associated with a lower risk of MS.
May Help Manage Asthma
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung condition that affects people of all ages. Asthma inflames and narrows the airways, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness for more than 25 million people in the U.S. Asthma most often starts in childhood, and has no cure.
Boosting vitamin D levels could help manage asthma attacks, according to a paper published in the journal Allergy. Since asthma is an immunologically mediated disease (much like MS), researchers believe that the immunomodulatory effects of vitamin D could benefit asthma sufferers. Nearly four million records were examined, and the results showed that those with a vitamin D deficiency were 25 % more likely to have an asthma attack. Researchers recommend that people with asthma have their vitamin D levels tested.
May Reduce Your Flu Risk
Vitamin D plays an important role in the body’s immune system, so it should come as no surprise that it has been linked to reduced risk of developing influenza (the flu). Every year, the strain of influenza changes, and flu vaccines do not always correctly match up to the flu virus that is causing the most illness. Getting enough vitamin D before flu season, from early November to late March, may help prevent your chance of getting influenza – no matter what strain is going around that year. Vitamin D helps protect the immune system by reducing levels of inflammatory proteins and increasing antimicrobial proteins that can destroy invading germs and viruses. Since flu season strikes during fall and winter months when vitamin D levels are seasonally low, supplements may be needed to increase vitamin D levels and help protect you against the flu.
How To Get More Vitamin D
Your body cannot synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D in the winter when it is dark, cold, and you are covered in layers of clothes. Even in the warmer summer months, however, you may still not get enough of the “sunshine vitamin.” If you work inside an office building, apply sunscreen and protective clothing when outside, or don’t get 15 minutes of direct sunshine on your face and arms every day – you could be at risk for a deficiency. People who live in colder climates and places further from the equator are also at risk, as are people with darker pigmented skin. So how do you get the vitamin D you need?
Unlike many other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, vitamin D is not readily available from dietary means. Fatty fish, beef livers, and egg yolks naturally provide vitamin D, as do fortified cereals, dairy products, and infant formulas. Food sources may provide some of the vitamin D you need, but if you are at risk of a deficiency, you may need a supplement.
Vitamin D synthesized by your body is known as vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). When looking for a vitamin D supplement, D3 is considered superior to D2 (ergocalciferol), which is commonly manufactured from fungus or yeast. Most D3 supplements are not vegan, however, so you can find both at natural health and grocery stores. Before you take any supplement, you should always discuss it with your doctor to be sure that there are no known interactions with medications you are currently taking or dangers to your specific health concerns.
A little sunshine, a few egg yolks, and, during the winter, a vitamin D3 supplement may be all you need to experience the benefits and protective effects that the “sunshine vitamin” has to offer.