Vitamin D (calciferol) is a type of fat-soluble vitamin that is found naturally in some food items, like egg yolk, milk, fish oil, and other vegetables. Since our body also makes it after exposure to sunlight, it is also referred to as sunshine vitamin. In the overall body functioning, vitamin D is crucial for maintaining normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. It enhances calcium absorption by the bones and teeth, thereby promoting the skeletal and dental health.
Facts and Information
The skin, after receiving ultraviolet rays of the sun, generates vitamin D. Recent researches have revealed that this sunshine vitamin protects the body against certain chronic ailments, such as muscle weakness, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, cancer, osteoporosis, and other immunity system related diseases. Use of sunscreens with SPF (sun protection factor) 8 or more blocks the UVB rays, thus preventing synthesis of this vitamin. To understand the effects of vitamin D insufficiency on health better, let's take a quick look at some vitamin D facts.
- In its natural form, vitamin D has no significant role in the metabolism process, rather it is a metabolic product (calcitriol) that performs the major functions. It is converted into calcitriol in two steps, the first in the liver and the second in the kidney.
- Calcitriol or the bioactive vitamin D is a class of steroid hormone responsible for targeting almost 10 percent genes (i.e., about 2000 genes) of the total genomic content in the human body. It also regulates the mineral metabolism of the body.
- There are several forms of vitamin D, of which vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are most essential for our body system.
- Ergocalciferol is produced by the plants, whereas, cholecalciferol is synthesized in the skin after exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays). Food supplements may contain any of the two forms of vitamin D, or at times both.
- For those who are not regularly exposed to sunlight, a vitamin D supplement of 5000 units per day is necessary, which accounts to 50 glasses of regular milk, or 10 glasses of fortified milk, or 10 multivitamin tablets daily.
- Just like sunscreens with an average SPF factor, sitting inside a car or staying inside the home impairs vitamin D synthesis. This is because, glass doesn't allow penetration of UV rays and reach our skin.
Symptoms and Associated Diseases
The daily recommended amount of vitamin D for normal functioning of the body is 200 units (IU). When exposed to 20 - 30 minutes in the summer sun, an individual normally synthesizes about 20,000 IU of sunshine vitamin. To be more precise, deficiency of this fat-soluble vitamin is less likely if one gets exposed to sun for a few minutes daily. But, deficiency symptoms are triggered by certain factors, like liver problems and kidney diseases. Also, some people are diagnosed with genetic defects that lead to vitamin D resistance.
People having a dark complexion and those with limited sun exposure should include adequate amounts of vitamin D rich foods in their diet to avoid deficiency symptoms. The same is applicable to people who live in areas far away from the equatorial zone. As per research findings, breastfeeding babies, elderly people, and obese people are more susceptible to this nutritional insufficiency than others. So, what happens if vitamin D is insufficient in the body? Of course, it negatively affects the bodily metabolic processes and increases the risks for certain diseases.
Symptoms of Low Vitamin D
- Increased weakness
- Swelling and pain in the joints
- Chronic body pain
- Chronic headache
- Muscle pain and cramps
- Sleep problems
- Sudden weight gain
- Uncontrolled weight loss
- Bladder and bowel related problems
- Elevated blood pressure
- Poor dental health
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of memory
- Short stature
Diseases Associated with Low Vitamin D
- Rickets, a bone-wasting disease, is a major ailment among children caused due to deficiency of vitamin D. A child diagnosed with rickets has low density bone mass that cannot support his/her body weight.
- In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes osteomalacia. The notable symptom of osteomalacia is abnormal softening of bones.
- Low levels of vitamin D hamper calcium absorption by the bones, which in turn causes osteoporosis. Patients of osteoporosis lose bone mass, resulting in brittle bones. In general, calcium treatment is administered for treating this ailment.
- Chronic deficiency of vitamin D not only causes pain, muscle fatigue, and body ache, but it may also lead to schizophrenia. It also increases the risks for depression, diabetes, and cancer.
For a person diagnosed with chronic vitamin D insufficiency, it will take a longer period to restore normal levels of vitamin D. Also, just taking food rich in this vitamin is not effectual for combating the symptoms. This has to be coupled with daily sunlight exposure and nutrient supplementation. And while taking vitamin supplements, one should always consult a qualified physician regarding the dosage. Excessive intake can lead to vitamin D toxicity symptoms, like nausea, organ damage, and mood swings. In contrary to the common belief, over-exposure to sunlight does not cause toxicity of sunshine vitamin.
In conclusion, daily exposure to natural sunlight for 10 - 15 minutes is the only reliable and inexpensive approach to prevent vitamin D deficiency. It is to be noted that the human body generates a specific amount of vitamin D irrespective of the sun exposure time. In other words, the amount of vitamin D generated depends upon the requirement of the body for normal metabolic processes.