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The Many Roles of Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been getting a lot of press lately. For a long time this important nutrient was mostly associated with bone health and calcium, and it was generally thought that as long as you drink milk you were going to get enough of this vitamin.
It has become increasingly clear in the last few years that vitamin D has critical roles in health beyond just building and keeping strong bones. As well, vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a common occurrence and recommendations for vitamin D intake have been called into question.
The nature of all vitamins is that they are compounds that human beings cannot produce by themselves; we rely on the environment to get the vitamins.
We get vitamin D in two ways Either by the action of sunlight on our skin converting cholesterol to a form of vitamin D, or through intake of vitamin D in our diet.
And right there is the problem.
As we spend less time outside, use sun-block, and live far from the equator, there is less opportunity for sunlight to act upon our skin to produce vitamin D.
And for those people with darker skin pigment, especially African Americans, it is even harder to produce vitamin D via sunlight.
As for diet, there are not many foods that naturally contain large quantities of vitamin D. Aside from milk and grains fortified by food manufacturers with vitamin D, fish liver oils, fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna canned in oil), eggs, and mushrooms shitake mushrooms are most abundant in vitamin D.
Any disruption in intestinal function can interfere with absorption of the vitamin, increasing the likelihood of vitamin D deficiency.
Not only is vitamin D critical for bone health and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, almost every organ in our body has vitamin D receptors.
Diseases that have been associated with vitamin D deficiency include, or are made more likely, include hypertension, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, depression, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder and several autoimmune diseases.
Low vitamin D has been associated with greater risk of prostate, breast, colon, and ovarian cancer.
So what is there to do? It is critical that every person, both male and female, get their vitamin D level checked. You should ask your doctor to measure your level of 25-hydroxy Vitamin D, which is the storage form of vitamin D and the best indicator of how much Vitamin D we have in our body.
The accepted normal level of vitamin D has been 20 ng/mL. However it is now clear that at this level diseases associated with deficiency are more prevalent, and a level of at least 50 ng/mL may be optimum.
Current recommendations of 400-800 international units a day are in process of being reviewed, and it is quite likely that an intake of up to 2,000 units a day will be recommended to achieve optimal health.
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