Vitamin D often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health, enhancing bone health and improving immune system. There are two forms of vitamin D: D2 (ergocalcifetol), found in food and D3 (cholecalciferol), produced by our body from exposure to sunlight. Both types of vitamin D are biologically active and support the many ways that it works.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health. In children, it promotes bone development and growth. In adults, vitamin D helps prevent osteoporosis and fractures. Although severe vitamin D deficiency in children and adults is rare, vitamin D deficiency is widespread among sick people and elderly. In this article, we will discuss the Vitamin D deficiency, sources, side effects and how much vitamin D we need in our day to day life.
Vitamin D Deficiency Sources Side Effects: A Comprehensive Idea
Forms and Formation of Vitamin D:
Vitamin D can be considered either a vitamin or a hormone. Like other vitamins, a lack of dietary vitamin D will cause a deficiency. The active form of vitamin D is like a hormone because it is made in one part of the body and regulates activities in other parts.
Ten compounds, called vitamin D1 through D10, exhibit antirachitic properties; that is, they prevent a childhood bone disease called rickets. The most important of these compounds are D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). Ergocalciferol is found exclusively in plants foods. Cholecalciferol is found in animals foods (eggs and fish oils), but most is synthesized in the skin.
In the skin, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun converts a cholesterol derivative to cholecalciferol, which then enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver. The liver also receives dietary cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol from chylomicrons. In the liver, cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol are converted into calcidiol and then sent to the kidneys. The kidneys perform the final step – the formation of calcitriol, the predominant, active form of vitamin D. The body derives about 90 percent of its calcitriol from the cholecalciferol synthesized in the skin.
Dietary Recommendation for Vitamin D:
Although the body can synthesize vitamin D, scientists still recognize vitamin D as an essential nutrient for most people. Because of the variability of sunlight throughout the year, and some people’s limited sun exposure, intake recommendations have been developed. Dietary recommendations are given as Adequate Intake (AI) levels that assume no available vitamin D from skin synthesis.
Infants are born with stores of vitamin D that last about nine months. Beyond that, they must obtain vitamin D via exposure to sunlight, formula or a supplement administered under the guidance of a physician. Breast milk contains very little vitamin D and is unlikely to meet baby’s needs beyond infancy. Exclusively breast-fed infants who receive little exposure to sunlight need supplemental vitamin D. The AI for the infants and children from birth to 18 years is 5 micrograms per day.
In later adulthood, the intake recommendations for vitamin D increase because vitamin D synthesis decreases with aging. For men and women aged 19 through 50 years, the AI for vitamin D is 5 micrograms per day. For people ages 51 through 70, the AI increases to 10 micrograms per day and for people older than 70, the AI rises to 15 micrograms per day.
Vitamin D and Weight Loss:
Obesity is a risk factor for low vitamin D levels because the more weight you carry, the more vitamin D your body requires. Studies have also shown vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of becoming obese later in life. One small study found found women with low levels of vitamin D might be more prone to gain weight. Vitamin D and calcium may act as an appetite suppressant as well.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression:
There may be an association between low levels of vitamin D and depression, but studies show mixed results and further research is needed. Vitamin D receptors in the brain have been linked to the development of depression. Vitamin D itself may not ward off depression, but patients who are taking antidepressants along with vitamin D may help reduce symptoms of depression.
Sunlight and Vitamin D:
The easiest way to get vitamin D i by exposing your skin to direct sunlight, specifically ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The more you expose you skin, the more vitamin D your body produces. You only need to spend about half as much time as it takes to turn pink and get sunburn. This means if you are fair-skinned and normally start to turn pink in 30 minutes, you only need 15 minutes of pre-sunscreen sun exposure to produce the vitamin D3 your body needs. The darker your skin, the more time you need in the sun to produce vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D you get from sun exposure depends on the time of day, your skin tone, where you live, and how much skin you expose.
Vitamin D Foods:
Generally, sun exposure is the best way to get the vitamin D your body needs. Most foods that contain vitamin D only contain small amounts and won’t give you the total amount your body needs.
Foods High in Vitamin D:
- Fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- Fortified cereals
- Dairy products
If are unable to obtain enough vitamin D from sun exposure, there are foods containing this vitamin that can start kick-start your day. Many foods typically eaten for breakfast are fortified with vitamin d. Read labels to find out how much vitamin D is in the food you eat for breakfast.
Breakfast Foods Good for Vitamin D Boost:
- Orange Juice
- Egg Yolks
Vitamin D Supplements:
If you don’t get enough sun exposure, food is unlikely to give you the amount of vitamin D your body needs. In this case, your doctor may recommend you take vitamin D supplements. There are two forms of vitamin D – D2 (ergocalciferol), found in food and D3 (cholecalciferol), produced by your body from exposure to sunlight. Most over-the -counter vitamin D supplements contain vitamin D3 which is not usually vegetarian. If you have concern about this, your doctor may prescribe vitamin D2 supplements.
Vitamin D Deficiency:
The lack of vitamin D is a problem for health worldwide. Despite the fact that the body can make vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, many people nevertheless have deficit. The body’s ability to synthesize this crucial nutrient can be influenced by a variety of variables, including life-style, environment and skin tone.
People may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency if they dislike the sun, suffer from milk allergies, or stick to a vegan diet. People with dark skin may also be at risk for developing vitamin D deficiency. This is because the pigment melanin reduces their skin’s ability to make vitamin D after sun exposure. Other risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include:
- Covering your skin with clothing or SPF all the time
- Obesity or gastric bypass surgery
- Infants who are breastfed and not given a vitamin D supplement
- Living in northern regions where there are fewer hours of sunlight
- Being older
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:
A lack of vitamin D can cause a number of health problems. A few typical signs are bone pain, muscle weakness and weariness. In extreme circumstances, it may cause osteoporosis in adults and rickets in youngsters. Additionally, recent studies point to a connection between low vitamin D levels and higher risk of a number of chronic conditions, including cancer, immune disorders, osteoporosis and cardiovascular illness.
Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency:
Long-term vitamin D deficiency takes a profound toll on the skeleton. When vitamin D is in short supply, the intestines absorb only about 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium so bones don’t get enough of this bone-building mineral.
Rickets and Osteomalacia:
In children with vitamin D deficiency, the bones weaken and skeleton fails to harden. Children with the disease, called rickets, often have bowed legs or knocked knees and other skeletal deformities. Although vitamin D fortification of milk has reduced the incidence of rickets in the United States..
In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes a similar skeletal problem called osteomalacia, or “soft bones”. Osteomalacia increases the risk for fractures in the hip, spine and other bones.
Along with osteomalacia, vitamin D deficiency is associated with osteoporosis, increased bone turnover, and an increased risk of bone fractures. Administration vitamin D to elderly people with or without a deficiency slows bone turnover and increases bone density.
Who is most at risk for a vitamin D deficiency?
In 1998 a pivotal study was published suggesting many more people are deficient in vitamin D than had been suspected. The investigation of nearly 300 patients hospitalized in Boston showed that almost three of five people had too little vitamin D to maintain optimal levels of calcium in their bones.
One explanation for the vitamin D shortfall may be that more people are protecting their skin with sunscreen, which may help prevent skin cancer, but reduces vitamin D synthesis. Any sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 8 or more blocks vitamin D synthesis in the skin. The problem worsens with age. Adults older than 65 years have a fourfold decrease in their ability to produce vitamin D1 via sun, compared to adults 20 to 30 years old.
Living in the northern region compounds the problem. During the dead of winter, daylight hours are so short and sunlight is so weak that vitamin D synthesis halts. Although the same is true for the southern region. Fortunately, little of the world’s population lives in this region.
Testing the Body for Vitamin D:
A simple blood test called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test can measure levels of vitamin D in the blood. Levels of the vitamin are measured in nanograms per milliliter. 20 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL is an adequate level for bone and overall health, and a level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency. Many experts suggest that higher levels of vitamin D, 35 to 40 ng/mL are suggested for preventive health. Levels higher than that do not appear to offer any additional benefits.
What is the Right Amount of Vitamin D:
It is recommended daily allowance (USRDA) for vitamin D is 600 IU (international units) per day for those 1-70 years of age. Infants under 1 year need 400 IU, while adults 71 and other require 800 IU.
Vitamin D and Breastfeeding:
The amount of vitamin D in human breast milk is minimal. Since infants should be kept from direct sunlight and use of sunscreen, they generally do not get enough of this vitamin without supplementation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing infants should receive 400 IU of vitamin D supplementation per day. Over the counter products, such as multivitamin products are available to provide vitamin D supplementation for infants.
Vitamin D for Older Children:
Many children do not get the recommended amounts of vitamin D in their diet, putting them at risk for vitamin D deficiency and rickets. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants 1 year and under get 400 IU per day of vitamin D and 600 IU daily of vitamin D for children and teens. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about vitamin D supplementation and the right amount for your child.
How Much Vitamin D is Harmful:
There is such a thing as too much vitamin D. Vitamin D in excess of 4000IU can cause side effects such as anorexia, excessive urine output, heart arrhythmias and kidney stones. Excess vitamin D is usually caused by taking too much in the form of supplements. It is not possible to get too much vitamin D from sun exposure – the body regulates the amount it produces.
Vitamin D Overdose Side Effects:
Hypervitaminosis D occurs when people take too many vitamin D supplements. When there is too much vitamin D in the body, calcium level rise and can lead to hypercalcemia.
Symptoms of hypercalcemia include:
- Excessive Urine Output
- Heart Arrhythmias
- Excessive thirst
- Muscle Weakness
- Vomiting, nausea and dizziness
- High blood pressure
- Organs damaged by long-term vitamin D
- Kidney stone
- Heart blockage
Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for maintaining general health and wellbeing. Its functions are numerous from controlling the immune system to promoting bone health. You may prevent vitamin D deficiency by taking food rich in vitamin D, supplements and exposure to sunlight. Always remember that getting the correct amount of vitamin D is important; neither too little nor too much.
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