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Why Should You Worry About Your Vitamin D Levels?

posted on 7/13/2016 Facebook Facebook

Known as the sunshine vitamin, recent research suggests that its role goes well beyond just maintaining bone health. The vitamin is undoubtedly essential for strong bones since it helps in the absorption of calcium in the body. However, it is rapidly becoming apparent that we have vastly underestimated Vitamin D’s significant importance for our overall health and well-being.

Unless your body has optimal levels, you are opening the door to a host of disorders, ranging from heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease to weak bones, cancer, and diabetes. In fact, even if you have normal blood sugar today, a vitamin D deficiency makes you 91% more likely to progress to insulin resistance, or “pre-diabetes and it more than doubles your risk for progressing to active, type II diabetes.

Today vitamin D deficiency is a global epidemic and close to 1 billion people are believed to be deficient in this vitamin. Our body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, most of us don’t have enough of it. The reason being that we avoid the sun as much as possible, lather on sunblock for the little time that we are actually outdoors and don’t get adequate amounts from our diet. While prescribing a vitamin D test is still not the standard care for many doctors, we need to start being more vigilant of our levels to prevent the catastrophic results of its deficiency. 

Why Is It  So Important? 
Virtually every tissue type in your body has receptors for vitamin D, meaning that they all require vitamin D for adequate functioning. Once vitamin D has been ingested in the diet or produced in the skin, the liver and kidneys convert it to its active form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, or vitamin D3. Vitamin D regulates genes that control cell growth and development, immune function, and metabolic control.  

The daily recommended allowance for vitamin D is 600 IU for those 1-70 years of age and pregnant or breastfeeding women, and 800 IU for those over 71 years of age. Here are five reasons for getting your vitamin D levels checked.

1. Protects Against Osteoporosis
Vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine. Together with calcium, it works to build strong bones and teeth. A deficiency of vitamin D is associated with low bone mass which is the main reason for developing osteoporosis. 

2. Reduces The Risk Of Cancer
This strong correlation is due to vitamin D receptors, which regulate a number of signaling pathways involved in inflammation, tumor growth, and immune system surveillance for cancer—especially in the epithelial cells of the skin, breast, prostate, and colon. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone which reduces cellular growth and improves cell differentiation, both of which can reduce the risk of cancer. It also acts as a transcription factor (involved in making proteins in the body), which has the ability to turn on or off genes.

3. Natural Antibiotic
This vitamin assists the WBCs (White Blood Cells), in clearing of infections from the body. It does this by activating the immune cells to make a protein called cathelicidin, which is found on T cells in our skin as well as neutrophils and macrophages. It defends the body against viruses and bacteria when activated in response to an immune threat. 

4. Protects Against Heart Attacks
Vitamin D3 is believed to improve the levels of HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or good cholesterol in the blood.  As we know, the HDL is required to protect the heart from the assaults of bad cholesterol. Vitamin D deficiency is common in people with cardiovascular disease; almost all people with heart failure are found to have reduced levels. It is now recognized as an independent predictor for diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including heart attacks and strokes.

5. Reduces The Risk Of Diabetes
Scientific evidence suggests that vitamin D is essential for the optimal functioning of the beta cells of the pancreas which are involved in the production of insulin in the body. Low levels of vitamin D are known to cause insulin sensitivity which is a prime indicator towards developing diabetes. Furthermore, vitamin D is essential for the regulation of calcium which helps control the release of insulin. Hence, any variation in the calcium can have adverse effects on the function of insulin-producing beta cells and eventually insulin release. 

Optimize Your Levels Naturally
Now that we have established the importance and role of vitamin D in protecting us against various health conditions, it is essential that we keep a check on our vitamin D levels. Here are three tips to make sure you get enough vitamin D on a daily basis:

1. Sun Exposure: UV radiation from sun is the best way your body can make vitamin D in your body. However, remember that too much sun can give you sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. The early morning sun is considered to be the mildest. So, grab your mug of coffee and head for your garden or balcony to bask in some sunlight.

2. Diet: Include more vitamin D rich foods in your diet. While the natural food sources of vitamin D are limited you can include the following which are rich in vitamin D in your daily diet: eggs, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna), white mushrooms, carrots, leafy and collard greens. Foods fortified with vitamin D (milk, juices, cereal products) can also be considered to replenish the vitamin D levels in your body. 

3. Supplements: Consider vitamin D supplements as these can help in meeting your daily vitamin d requirements. Make sure to talk to your physician to determine the correct dosage depending on your age, gender and health status. 

References:
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2. Wang S. Epidemiology of vitamin D in health and disease. Nutr Res Rev. 2009 Dec;22(2):188-203. doi: 10.1017/S0954422409990151. Epub . Review. PubMed PMID:19860998.
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8. Pilz S, Kienreich K, Tomaschitz A, Ritz E, Lerchbaum E, Obermayer-Pietsch B, Matzi V, Lindenmann J, März W, Gandini S, Dekker JM. Vitamin D and cancer mortality: systematic review of prospective epidemiological studies. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2013 Jan;13(1):107-17. Review. PubMed PMID: 23094928.
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10. Prietl B, Treiber G, Pieber TR, Amrein K. Vitamin D and immune function. Nutrients. 2013 Jul 5;5(7):2502-21. doi: 10.3390/nu5072502. Review. PubMed PMID: 23857223; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3738984.
11. Boucher BJ. Vitamin D insufficiency and diabetes risks. Curr Drug Targets.2011 Jan;12(1):61-87. Review. PubMed PMID: 20795936.
12. Calvo-Romero JM, Ramiro-Lozano JM. Vitamin D Levels in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. J Investig Med. 2015 Dec;63(8):921-3. doi:10.1097/JIM.0000000000000234. PubMed PMID: 26375925
Anderson JL, May HT, Horne BD, Bair TL, Hall NL, Carlquist JF, Lappé DL, Muhlestein JB; Intermountain Heart Collaborative (IHC) Study Group. Relation of vitamin D deficiency to cardiovascular risk factors, disease status, and incident events in a general healthcare population. Am J Cardiol. 2010 Oct 1;106(7):963-8.doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2010.05.027. Epub 2010 Aug 11. PubMed PMID: 20854958. 

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