Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient found in animal foods such as eggs, milk, cod, shrimp, salmon, and sardines. It is known for preventing the bone disease “rickets.” Below are seven additional health benefits of vitamin D.
The minerals calcium and phosphorus form a large part of the substance hydroxyapatite, which makes up over half of our bone composition. Two substances, however, primarily regulate the body’s use of calcium and phosphorus: parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D. PTH triggers the release of calcium from our bones into our bloodstream when levels drop too low.
Vitamin D, on the other hand, prevents PTH from drawing too much upon our bones’ supply of calcium by helping our intestines absorb more calcium and by allowing our kidneys to hold onto more calcium. By regulating our PHT function, vitamin D not only protects our bone health, but also fights against too much calcium in our bloodstream that can cause cardiovascular problems.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in our immune system by triggering macrophage cells that release antibacterial proteins. These proteins are shown to prevent infections, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis (responsible for tuberculosis) and Mycobacterium leprae (responsible for leprosy).
Vitamin D helps to manage our blood pressure by monitoring the system that increases our blood pressure when it gets too low, called the renin-angiotension system. Our body needs a healthy dose of vitamin D to inhibit this system from raising our blood pressure too high.
As mentioned above, vitamin D regulates the levels of PTH from releasing too much calcium into the bloodstream. An overdose of PTH in our bloodstream can also cause fat cells to collect too much calcium, triggering the cells to produce too much cortisol, a hormone that counteracts the effect of insulin, making it difficult for the body to metabolize sugars.
Furthermore, when too much calcium collects, our cells stop producing GLUT-4, a protein that helps transfer sugar into the bloodstream and to our cells. GLUT-4, however, functions only when triggered by insulin. Without sufficient vitamin D, not only do our bodies produce too little GLUT-4 to transport the necessary sugar to our cells, but also lacks the effectiveness of insulin to stimulate that process.
Studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency not only leads to decreased muscle strength (independent of muscle mass), but also may inhibit proper nerve firing and triggering of muscle contractions.
Vitamin D has been shown to prevent certain types of cancer, including bladder, breast, colon, ovarian, prostate, melanoma, and rectal cancer.
Recommended intake of vitamin D greatly reduces the risks of age-related cognitive disorders, such as senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and mood disorders such as depression.