This once obscure vitamin has been thought to only fortify skeletal structure through the minerals calcium and phosphorous; however, new emerging research shows this vitamin carries many more tasks than just strengthening bones.
Vitamin D and Pre-eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia is a devastating systemic disorder that is characterized by proteinuria (protein in urine), high blood pressure, and edema. This disorder can cause grave health problems for the mother and fetus: pre-eclampsia can cause premature delivery and is the leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death around the globe (causing some 76,000 deaths per year). Pre-eclampsia is, no doubt, a problem that greatly affects mothers and infants. The cause still remains unknown; however, a study carried out by the University of Pittsburgh found that vitamin D deficiency early in gestation is associated with a five-fold increase risk of developing pre-eclampsia.
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Vitamin D and Diabetes
Most people in Western societies are familiar with diabetes, particularly that of type II diabetes. Type II diabetes is highly publicized since most diabetes sufferers are afflicted with this particular form of the affliction. However, the smaller subset, those suffering with type I diabetes, have a small advantage over their counter parts. Recent research has demonstrated that those who receive high amounts of vitamin D during childhood have a lower risk of developing type I diabetes later on in life, the greater the amount of vitamin D, the greater the benefit.
Type I diabetes is different than type II in the fact that, it does not arise out of insulin resistance; rather, it comes about because the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by one's own immune system, starting early in childhood. Though more commonly found amongst Europeans and North Americans, it can affect people from all walks of life.
Vitamin D and Cancer
Vitamin D has also been linked to better outcomes in cancer. In breast, colon and prostate cancer, the sun-shine vitamin has been shown to suppress cancer growth and the formation of blood vessels that feed cancer cells. Furthermore, in a breast cancer study, 24 percent in the breast cancer study had adequate levels of the vitamin at the time of diagnosis. Those who were deficient were more likely to have the cancer metastasize or recur ten years later. Moreover, 73 percent of the deficient were more likely to die.
A study in the International Journal of Cancer found that vitamin D protects cells from oxidative stress. This study used the most biologically active form of the vitamin, vitamin D3 along with nonmalignant human prostate epithelial cells. Metabolism of cells produces free radicals that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer formation and accelerated aging. Vitamin D links with a gene that increases its activity and produces an enzyme that combats free radical damage by clearing the cell of those DNA-damaging substances. This relieves cell stress and retains healthy cells.
Vitamin D and Brain Function
Because of the many vitamin D receptors in the brain, it has been discovered that vitamin D plays a very important role in maintaining and achieving a healthy mind. Though more research in this particular area of vitamin D functions is needed, it is worth mentioning since vitamin D has been indicated in children with brain dysfunction (its exact mechanisms are still unclear at present).
Though behavioral and cognitive difficulties and their association to low vitamin D levels is still a little sketchy, what is known is how low vitamin D levels affect depression in the elderly. Accompanied by an overactive parathyroid, low vitamin D levels have been implicated to increase depression in older adults, and in other mental disorders. This information is particularly important because, instead of treating patients with dangerous psychotropic medications that have hazardous side effects, depression could in the future be treated with a higher intake of vitamin D or more calcium and exposure to sunlight.
Now that many of the health benefits of vitamin D have been shown, it is time to describe where to find this vitamin and who needs it the most. The largest source of this vitamin is the sun. Contrary to popular belief, spending time in the sun daily is not deadly. Though there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, never spending any time in the sun is certainly not the better alternative. Lighter individuals need less time than darker individuals, about 15 minutes in the sun daily. For darker individuals, more time is need than 15 minutes (approximately 30 minutes).
Another source is through diet. Raw milk naturally contains vitamin D, but the largest dietary source
would have to be cod liver oil.
As for who needs vitamin D the most, everybody needs it! However, it has been recently shown that young children and infants tend to be deficient, even though they appear healthy otherwise. Currently, the new info on vitamin D and all its varying abilities has prompted many to deem the recommended daily allowance (RDA) to be far too low -- the highest amount suggested being 600 IU. The Vitamin D Council recommends at least 1,000 IU (or 25 ug/day).
To sum up all this info on supplementing this vitamin: if people get plenty of sunshine, raw milk, and cod liver oil, many would surely reap the benefits of this vitamin.
Overall, vitamin D has been for years underestimated in its abilities and its health benefits. The future only holds more data on how important this vitamin is; therefore, supplementation needs to be more emphasized.
About the author
Ella Andersen is a college student who intensely researchs topics on health and nutrition. In college, she is furthering her love of nutrition by pursuing a degree in clinical dietetics.
She also runs her own blog: