Importance of Vitamin D and How to Get It

Almost every American child has been reminded by a parent, teacher, or other authority figure, at some point, to drink their milk because it has vitamin D which is good for growing bodies. While this is accurate, many of us don’t understand how crucial vitamin D is to bone health, brain function and our immune systems.

We normally get our vitamin D from our diet and the sun, but many of us fail to spend enough time outdoors to get our recommended dose of sunlight. That is why many people should discuss taking vitamin D supplements with their doctor.

What Is Vitamin D?

Most people think that vitamin D is a single compound, but it is actually a family of similar organic molecules. The most common forms of vitamin D are vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, and vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol.

Upon ingestion or production in the skin, vitamin D is activated in the liver and then the kidneys. These hydroxylated versions act as hormones in the blood that modulate calcium uptake in the intestines and regulate calcium levels in the blood. Perhaps the most important function of vitamin D is maintaining bone density by promoting calcium absorption in the intestines, supporting parathyroid function, and facilitating bone remodeling.

How Vitamin D Keeps Us Healthy

Vitamin D is essential in maintaining our health. Some of these benefits are widely known, but others have come to light only recently.

  • Bone health—vitamin D strengthens bones by promoting the uptake of calcium and magnesium. This vitamin also helps maintain an optimal concentration of these minerals in the bloodstream and throughout the body by facilitating mineral absorption by the intestines.
  • Testosterone-– vitamin D is a regulator of many hormones like testosterone because it is a hormone precursor. Testosterone influences many physiological factors including muscle mass, strength, and energy levels.
  • Diabetes progression—at least one study suggests that vitamin D can have an impact on metabolic deterioration associated with diabetes. The study found that people with type 2 diabetes had improved insulin sensitivity while taking vitamin D supplements.
  • Lung function—studies show that taking vitamin D can promote lung function and make breathing easier. While this may provide benefits in athletic performance, it may also provide symptom relief in several health conditions like COPD and COVID-19.
  • Stronger teeth—it should not be surprising that teeth, which are made of bone, would benefit from vitamin D. Teeth not only become stronger and less prone to breaking, but they also appear whiter and healthier.
  • Sleep cycle—taking vitamin D, especially at the start of the day, helps regulate your biological clock. This makes it easier to fall and stay asleep, meaning you are more likely to feel refreshed and energized.
  • Mood enhancement-– vitamin D is a common treatment for seasonal affective disorder, a depression condition linked to shortening days.
  • Immune system—there is still some debate if vitamin D boosts the immune system enough to prevent infection from cold, flu or COVID-19, but some studies do suggest that a vitamin D deficiency does raise the risk of infection.
  • Cancer treatment—although no one is suggesting that vitamin D alone can cure cancer, there is evidence that this vitamin plays an important role in slowing cancerous growth. Vitamin D is instrumental in the production of the hormone calcitriol, which can slow the growth of blood vessels into cancerous tissue.
  • Pregnancy—vitamin D is especially important for pregnant women. Not only does sufficient vitamin D lower the risk of a cesarean birth, but it also reduces the likelihood of a pregnancy complication known as preeclampsia.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

Of special note to most people currently is the efficacy of vitamin D in preventing infection and severe symptom development from COVID-19. There is some evidence that vitamin D improves immune function in general, but there is little real proof that vitamin D is a miracle cure for COVID-19.

Various small studies have been performed since the start of the pandemic, but there have been no studies with impeccable scientific standards clearly linking vitamin D with reduced COVID-19 virulence. Most of these studies attempt to establish a tenuous link between vitamin D deficiency and severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

While vitamin D is very important for immune function, there is no evidence that it is specifically targeting COVID-19. The conclusion that should be made is that vitamin D can play an important role in fighting off COVID-19 and possibly limiting its symptom severity, but it is much less reliable than a vaccine.

Vitamin D Deficiency

It is quite common for people to have a vitamin D deficiency, even in modernized nations, due to poor diet and lack of time in sunlight. It is estimated that there are almost 3 million Americans with vitamin D deficiency every year.  People most at risk for insufficient amounts of vitamin D include

  • Breastfeeding infants because human milk does not contain enough vitamin D.
  • Seniors because their skin doesn’t make vitamin D as efficiently and kidneys don’t activate it as well.
  • Darker skinned people because their skin absorbs less ultraviolet light.
  • Obese people because fatty tissue binds vitamin D.

A lack of vitamin D can result in the following health conditions:

  • Rickets is a very uncommon condition in the U.S. in which the bones of children become soft and weak.
  • Osteoporosis is a common condition, especially among post-menopausal women, in which bone mass declines. This raises the risk of bone fractures.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depression related to shortened days. There is also some evidence that vitamin D may help with other kinds of depression.
  • There is an elevated risk of dementia among older people who have moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency. It has been theorized that vitamin D helps clear plaques in the brain.
  • Lower levels of vitamin D may impede many physiological functions including insulin sensitivity, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Severe erectile dysfunction has been linked to vitamin D deficiency.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.