Most of us know that vitamin D is important to keep our immune system strong, but few people know that there are many other health benefits of getting enough of the “Sunshine Vitamin.” Vitamin D can help your health in many ways, including:
Preventing Seasonal Flu: In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers studied school children to determine whether vitamin D reduces the incidence of flu. After assessing the 167 children who participated in the study, scientists concluded that vitamin D3 supplementation reduced the incidence of flu.
Protecting Your DNA: Vitamin D is involved with at least 2,000 genes in your body, so getting adequate amounts helps to ensure that those genes function properly and are protected from potential damage.
Better Muscle Function: Research shows that there is a link between vitamin D and muscle function and recovery from daily activities and exercise, in particular. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with muscle fatigue. Additional research on adolescent girls found that vitamin D supplementation improved muscle strength.
Reduced Risk of Multiple Sclerosis: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found a connection between blood levels of vitamin D and the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). While there was no significant association between MS and vitamin D levels among blacks and Hispanics tested, there was a significantly decreased risk of the disease in white people with high levels of the vitamin. This is especially true among individuals younger than twenty.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease: In a study of 1739 people published in the medical journal Circulation, researchers found that a vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Correcting the deficiency may help prevent heart disease.
Protects Lung Function: A vitamin D deficiency is linked to a rapid decline in lung function among smokers, according to research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The researchers explored the relationship between vitamin D and smoking, lung function and lung decline in 626 men. They found that vitamin D had a protective effect on the lungs and the rate of lung function decline.
Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Children: A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found a link between a vitamin D deficiency and childhood obesity, as well as increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Researchers followed almost 500 obese and non-overweight children to determine the factors that are involved with diabetes in later years. They identified a connection between low vitamin D levels and insulin resistance and an increased likelihood of experiencing type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependant diabetes) later in life. They also found that vitamin D levels were lower in children suffering from obesity compared to their thinner counterparts.
Reduces Appetite: Vitamin D has been shown to activate the production of the hormone leptin, which is a hormone that signals our brain and stomach that we are full.
Lessens Obesity: In a study at Aberdeen University of 3100 post-menopausal Scottish women over two years scientists found that women with the highest body-mass index (BMI) also had the lowest blood levels of vitamin D, suggesting a correlation between obesity and vitamin D deficiency.
Improved Insulin Resistance: In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that women who received a daily dose of 4000 IU of vitamin D3 had improvements in insulin resistance after supplementing with the vitamin for six months. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells aren’t responding properly to the hormone insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas in response to sugars and starches in the diet. The study suggests either improved insulin sensitivity or insulin secretion (BJN).
Lowers Blood Pressure: A study presented at the London meeting of the European Society of Hypertension found that supplementing with vitamin D can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure). An earlier study conducted by the American Heart Association found that a vitamin D deficiency in premenopausal women increases the risk of experiencing high blood pressure even many years later (AHA).
To Supplement or Not
While many health practitioners still advise patients that sunlight is sufficient to obtain vitamin D, the National Institutes of Health recommends getting vitamin D from three sources: moderate sunlight exposure, food sources and supplements. Fish, liver and egg yolks are the primary food sources of vitamin D. Supplementation with D3, known as cholecalciferol, the type of vitamin D that has been used in most studies showcasing the vitamin’s benefits, is recommended. However, it is usually sourced from fish so you may wish to choose synthetic vitamin D2, ergocalciferol, if you are vegan. Most health professionals recommend 800 to 2000 IU daily; however, stick to the lower dose if you choose synthetic vitamin D2.