by Tracy Smith
Technically, Vitamin D is not a true vitamin because, under the right circumstances, the body can synthesize its own using sunlight and cholesterol. It 's really a steroid hormone that strongly affects gene expression and resistance to multiple diseases. It 's vitally necessary for life and health, and new discoveries show that it 's more important for vibrant, youthful health than we ever thought before. Vitamin D deficiency is chronic around the world, even in developed countries. It 's estimated that the incidence of many cancers could be cut in half if we all got enough of this important nutrient. (ILLUSTRATION: Vitamin D3 is often available in gel caplet form.)
Humans and, in fact, most mammals create their own Vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight. But, because excessive exposure to the Sun is known to increase the risk of skin cancer, doctors generally don 't recommend being out in the sunlight as a way to get adequate Vitamin D. Instead, supplements are called for.
Vitamin D, in its D3 form known to chemists as cholecalciferol (don 't worry, I won 't force you to pronounce it!), is absolutely necessary for health. It was first discovered over a century ago when doctors were trying to find a cure for rickets, a serious bone disease that often affects children. It was noticed that this disease started to become much more common during the Industrial Revolution, when large numbers of people moved from the countryside and outdoors work to polluted cities where they worked in dark, dingy factories. Scientists also found that those living in warm, sunny places were much less likely to contract rickets than those living in cloudy, northern, high-latitude climates. Eventually it was discovered that Sun exposure or the taking of cod liver oil could absolutely prevent the disease, proving it to be a deficiency disease, meaning that it is not caused by a virus or other microorganism, but by a simple lack of something essential in the victim 's diet. That "something " proved to be Vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common. A study in France showed that fully 14 percent of otherwise healthy adults had extremely low levels of Vitamin D. Another study, this one of medical professionals living in New England, indicated that 42 percent of them had a Vitamin D deficiency by the end of Winter among those who did not take D3 supplements. But among those who did supplement their diet with D3, the deficiency rate was only 11 percent!
It 's pretty clear that without enough of this vitamin, you can get very sick indeed. And it 's also clear that many of us, in fact, aren 't getting enough. But there 's a lot more to Vitamin D3 than preventing rickets. The vitamin has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory aspects, and it has been shown to positively affect your mental outlook, too, helping to combat depression. Vitamin D3 can even help improve the lifespan and survival of the neurons which make up your brain and nervous system. Let 's take a look at what it can do for you!
One of the major problems faced by older women is osteoporosis, which greatly increases the risk of bone fractures and hip fractures late in life can sometimes amount to a death sentence. In a study commissioned by the Women 's Health Initiative, it was found that women on a Vitamin D3 and calcium carbonate supplementation program had 12 percent fewer hip fractures that women taking a placebo. These effects were seen on fairly high doses of D3 over 800 IU per day.
Vitamin D3 boosts your immune system and your body 's ability to fight off all kinds of diseases. Immune system cells have structures with Vitamin D receptors, and it 's been shown that being deficient in this vitamin increases your risk of of infection generally and especially increases your risk of autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin D3 helps your body fight off viral respiratory infections.
Vitamin D3 also has been shown to be beneficial in helping your body fight off the flu.
Vitamin D3 can help your body fight off tuberculosis.
In 2010, a presentation at the American College of Cardiology showed that patients with low Vitamin D levels who were suffering from the leading cause of death among human beings worldwide cardiovascular disease were about 30 percent less likely to die if they took Vitamin D3 supplementation.
Studies suggest that Vitamin D has a role in inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells: Even though high sunlight exposure increases the risk of skin cancer (and a few other kinds), a large number of cancers have a risk profile that is actually decreased with large amounts of sun exposure (which increases the body 's own Vitamin D production). Hodgkin 's lymphoma and myeloma, cancers of the small intestine, pancreas, and kidneys; as well as cancer of the colon, bladder, vulva, uterus, stomach, rectum, and prostate all have this inverse relationship with sun exposure and Vitamin D production.
Vitamin D also evidently has a role in reducing the incidence of Parkinson 's and Alzheimer 's diseases: 41 percent of Alzheimer 's patients and fully 55 percent of Parkinson 's disease patients were found to be deficient in Vitamin D.
Among Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients, Vitamin D3 supplementation was found to both decrease the number of lesions and increase the ability to walk and perform daily tasks. It 's also been discovered that relapses are more common among victims of MS who are deficient in Vitamin D. And it has long been observed that the incidence of Multiple Sclerosis decreases the closer you get to the equator, where there is more exposure to the Sun and hence more natural Vitamin D production.
Vitamin D3 taken in combination with calcium has been shown to decrease mortality in the elderly by some nine percent.
Some call Vitamin D the "sunlight vitamin " because our bodies synthesize it naturally when we are exposed to direct sunlight. The only danger is that too much sunlight isn 't good for you it can increase your risk of skin cancer. So be careful!
One way to insure you 're getting enough Vitamin D is the natural way: Sun exposure. But you have to be careful with this approach, since more than 15 minutes a day of direct, unscreened sunlight on your skin has been shown to increase your chances of developing skin cancer. But getting five to ten minutes a day, two to three times every week, of direct sunlight on your arms, hands, and face should be safe, and should also be enough to prevent any deficiency in the vitamin, according to experts.
The body can also absorb extra Vitamin D if you eat certain foods. Making sure you consume fat-containing fish, like eel, catfish, tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines can help. If you 're a vegetarian, cereals, cheese, fortified milk, and egg yolk are also rich in the nutrient.
The United States Institute of Medicine has established a recommended daily intake of Vitamin D3 at 600 IU (International Units) for those 70 and under and 800 IU daily for those 71 and up. The International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends even more, suggesting that Vitamin D levels that require a daily intake of 800 to 1000 IU daily are more appropriate.
Much higher doses can be taken safely, too, but don 't ever get close to 300,000 IU in any 24-hour period or 10,000 IU per day for three months or more: such doses can be toxic. Remember that too much of anything, even the most harmless things like water, can be harmful.
Unlike drugs, Vitamin D is a natural compound one that your body needs and one that your body also makes itself every time you go out in the Sun. You need it, and, thanks to modern technology, you can easily and inexpensively make sure you 're getting the maximum benefit possible from this health-boosting and life-improving nutrient the vitamin that isn 't really a vitamin!
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