Vitamin D – Do You Need to Supplement?
Before taking any type of health supplements, even before taking a prescription drug, a healthy diet is the foundation of optimal health. However, even if you have a good diet, many factors prevent us from getting all of the necessary nutrients we need. These factors include inadequate intake of healthy foods, foods grown in nutrient-depleted soils, poor nutrient absorption, increase requirements, such as pregnancy or illness, increased losses of nutrients due to illnesses such as diabetes, and toxicity in the body from pollution or intake of toxic substances.
One vital nutrient that the body actually produces by itself is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital for all cellular functions in the body. The body naturally produces its own supply of Vitamin D when sunlight hits your bare skin. This happens within just a few minutes if you have fair skin, and longer if your skin is darker. Although some may be concerned about sun exposure and skin cancer, you don’t need to stay in the sun for very long to get an adequate amount. The amount you get also depends on the time of day, the color of your skin, and how much area of your skin is exposed. Although this natural method is best, if you are not able to get enough Vitamin D this way, supplementation is a good second choice. Vitamin D is also in many foods, but again, this may not be enough.
What does Vitamin D do in the body? Vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to many illnesses. The most widely known has been osteoporosis. Vitamin D along with Calcium keeps bones healthy and strong. There may also be a link between Vitamin D deficiency and multiple sclerosis (MS), but the evidence is not yet entirely conclusive. There may also be a link between low levels of Vitamin D and type 2 diabetes. This correlation may be related to high body fat – since this vitamin is fat-soluble, it may be locked in the body fat and not available for your body to use. Some studies suggest that Vitamin D supplementation may actually help a person to lose weight. This vitamin may also help in preventing and treating depression. Vitamin D may also help to prevent some cancers, such as colon cancer.
Vitamin D affects all cells of the body, especially the immune system. Before the development of antibiotics, tuberculosis patients were treated with sunlight exposure, which increased the person’s ability to fight off the infection due to the increase of Vitamin D. In autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, vitiligo, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system produces antibodies which cause immune cells to attack the body’s own tissues. In the case of psoriasis, pro-inflammatory chemical signals in the skin stimulate the skin cells to produce much more rapidly, resulting in scaling of the skin. Vitamin D may inhibit this inflammatory response. So, Vitamin D serves to regulate the immune system by either increasing or decreasing its activity, depending on how the body is out of balance. It is interesting to note that inflammatory diseases may actually be the cause of low Vitamin D levels, not simply the result of it.
How do you know if you need to take a Vitamin D supplement? The most definitive way to find out if you are deficient in this nutrient is through a blood test. Otherwise, the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency can be pretty vague – symptoms such as muscle or joint pain and weakness, bone pain, fatigue, and depression. Consult with your doctor if you think you may need to supplement with Vitamin D. Your doctor will be able to tell you the proper dosage for your needs.