Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is found in two major forms; ergocalciferol or Vitamin D2 , which comes from plants; and cholecalciferol or Vitamin D3, which comes from exposure to morning sunlight and certain foods. Collectively, these are known as calciferol. Vitamin D is a very important chemical in the body that transfers calcium from digested food in the stomach to the blood stream, and keeps the bones strong.
Importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps in the normal concentration of calcium and phosphorus levels, to maintain and build strong bones in the body. It aids in controlling the supply of calcium between the bones and the blood, and vice versa. It is also essential for growth of bones and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Vitamin D also plays a significant role in preventing rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults. Vitamin D helps to fight depression, prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, some cardiovascular diseases, phagocytosis activity, and boosts anti-tumor activity. It controls secretion of the parathyroid hormone from the parathyroid gland. Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system.
Sources of Vitamin D
Unlike all other vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates, Vitamin D is produced in the body in two ways:
Consumption of Healthy Food
A healthy and balanced diet is always recommended to avoid deficiency of Vitamin D. One should consume food that is rich in Vitamin D on a daily basis. The major sources of Vitamin D are from fortified foods like food grain bars, breakfast cereals, milk, bread, pastries, orange juice, and crackers. Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, sardines, cod liver oil, egg yolk, beef liver, and shiitake mushrooms are also naturally rich in Vitamin D.
Exposure to Ultraviolet B Radiation from the Sun
The human body can also produce Vitamin D by direct exposure to natural sunlight. The ultraviolet light from the sun activates Vitamin D synthesis in the skin. When a person is exposed to at least 20 - 30 minutes of sunlight, about 20,000 units (IU) of Vitamin D is acquired.
Deficiency of Vitamin D
For the body to function normally, at least 200 units of Vitamin D is required daily. Deficiency of vitamin D affects several organs of the body, and can lead to various health problems. Vitamin D deficiency also affects the bones, causing them to become thin and soft. It is also associated with diabetes and obesity.
Deficiency of Vitamin D causes rickets, a bone-wasting disease due to low-density of bone mass. People suffering from this condition cannot support their body weight. Rickets is more commonly seen in children.
Osteomalacia, due to softening of bones is a common condition seen in adults, caused by Vitamin D deficiency. Lack of Vitamin D can also cause diarrhea, burning sensation in the mouth, throat infection, insomnia, and eye problems. It also affects calcium absorption by the bones, causing osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass, resulting in brittle bones. An acute deficiency of Vitamin D can also lead to schizophrenia.
Thus, it can be seen that Vitamin D is very important for one to stay healthy. A nutritious diet that includes adequate amounts of Vitamin D should be considered essential. Exposure to sunlight for at least 10 - 20 minutes a day is an easy way to maintain the level of Vitamin D in the body, and help one stay fit and healthy.