Fun In the Sun: The Importance of Vitamin D for Your Health

“Are you D-ficient?”

“The best offense is a good D-fense.”

“Vitamins: D whole truth.”

We thought long and hard about which amazing pun we’d use to start out this article, all about the remarkable powers of vitamin D. But, ultimately, we thought of so many good ones that we kind of had to shrug and say “use them all!”

In a way, having so many choices actually reminded us of vitamin D itself. There are just so many amazing benefits to this essential vitamin worth covering that this article could easily be three thousand words (don’t worry, it’s not going to be anywhere close to that).

But enough gabbing — on to the good stuff! Let’s shed some light on vitamin D — what it is, how you can get it, and why it’s so good for your body.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and may refer to any one of a group of compounds:  vitamin D-1, vitamin D-2, and vitamin D-3.

Vitamin D also goes by a few other names including “calciferol,” and, more commonly, the “sunshine vitamin.” Why such a bright nickname? Chemical reactions in your body actually naturally create vitamin D when you’re exposed to direct sunlight. You can also get vitamin D through certain fortified foods, and many people take dietary supplements to ensure that they’re getting enough vitamin D.

So, why is having sufficient vitamin D levels so important? Based on decades of research, we know that vitamin D plays plenty of important functions in our bodies. It helps regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, promotes the growth of bones and teeth, and is crucial for helping your immune system function normally.

Let’s dive into some of those healthy effects in a little more depth!

What Are the Health Benefits of Vitamin D?

So, when it comes to vitamin D, what’s the big D-eal? (Sorry, we couldn’t resist one more joke.) Well, did you know that . . .

  • Vitamin D can help fight disease
    Studies have shown that vitamin D can have a huge impact on your overall health, and can help reduce your risk for developing heart disease or hypertension, and may help prevent the onset of diabetes and cancer.
  • Vitamin D can help reduce depression symptoms
    Studies have shown that absorbing vitamin D can play a huge role in regulating mood and energy levels — and may help improve symptoms in those suffering from depression and anxiety.
  • Vitamin D can help you move
    Vitamin D is closely connected with your skeletal and muscle health, and getting enough of it may help ward off chronic problems. For instance, research suggests that those who regularly take vitamin D are less likely to develop multiple sclerosis. Studies have also suggested that vitamin D can help reduce pain in fibromyalgia sufferers. When taken with calcium, this vitamin may also help strengthen older adults, allowing them to stay mobile and minimizing their risk of dangerous falls.
  • Vitamin D may help promote weight loss
    In addition to its proven benefits for heart health, one notable study has also suggested that a regimen of vitamin D and calcium can promote weight loss and suppress appetite.

How Can You Raise Your Vitamin D Levels?

Despite these amazing benefits, many people are actually deficient in vitamin D. WebMD points out that D is an “overlooked vitamin,” and Scientific American claims that as many as 10 percent of American adults may be deficient in vitamin D.

And that’s significant! Health benefits aside, research also suggests that having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a host of negative symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue and feelings of sadness or depression
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle pains and weakness
  • Difficulty moving

One way to increase your vitamin D intake? Get out in the sun, if possible! Experts recommend getting outside in direct sunlight for about 10 minutes a day, which should be enough to “give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units” of the vitamin — enough to meet the average person’s daily recommended dose.

Otherwise, experts encourage those hoping to up their vitamin D levels to pay particular attention to what they eat, and fold certain foods into their routines. Vitamin D supplements are also recommended for those who suffer from a significant deficiency.

There are some foods that contain vitamin D naturally; other foods and beverages may come in varieties fortified with vitamin D. To get more vitamin D in your diet, experts recommend eating foods such as:

  • Salmon
  • Egg yolks
  • Sardines
  • Milk (fortified)
  • Yogurt (fortified)
  • Orange juice (fortified)

What Else Should I Know About Vitamin D?

It’s important to realize that different groups of people require different amounts of vitamin D, and experts caution that more research is needed to find out how personal and environmental factors can influence vitamin D absorption from the sun.

While scientists are still studying the effects of environmental factors on peoples’ ability to absorb the sunshine vitamin, there are are a few things to keep in mind! For instance, older, darker complexioned, or pregnant individuals may need more vitamin D — and may need to increase their intake of vitamin D, compared to others.

Similarly, environmental factors can influence how much vitamin D a person can get from direct sunlight. Low winter sun may not produce enough radiation to cause a significant effect on levels of absorption, for instance, putting people in northern states at a disadvantage. Similarly, people who live in cities may find it harder to get the right levels of sunlight, due to air pollution and the shadows cast by large buildings.

With this in mind, those wondering if they might need to supplement or increase their vitamin D intake may want to consult with a physician or health expert.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, as with any vitamin or mineral, it is possible to get too much vitamin D. Also, spending too much time in the sun can come with health risks, including sunburn and an increased risk for developing skin cancer.

Let the Sunshine In

Do you have any strategies for getting a healthy amount of vitamin D? We’d love to hear your thoughts over on Facebook!

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