There are five different types of Vitamin D (D1, D2, D3, D4 & D5), but D2 and D3 are the only types that our bodies can use. When something just says "vitamin D" it is generally referring to D2 or D3 (or a combination of the two)...
Vitamin D is a prohormone, which is the precursor to a hormone. In its raw form (sun exposure, foods, supplements), Vitamin D is inert and has to go through a series of complex biochemical reactions before your body can use it. These reactions produce calcitriol, which is the form of Vitamin D that is used by your body (D2 and D3)..
Vitamin D is one of the only vitamins that your body can produce by itself. What is the catalyst that gets your D production going? Good old fashioned sunshine! It's the ultraviolet-B radiation (UVB) that enables vitamin D production to occur in the skin..
Vitamin D is produced in equal amounts in both people with fairly pigmented and darkly pigmented skin after exposure to UVB radiation (sunlight). Sunlight is important for Vitamin D production, but the strength of sunlight and the intensity of UVB exposure can be affected by season, distance from the equator, and even personal habits. If you have a job that keeps you indoors during daylight hours, or you work nights, you don't produce as much Vitamin D as someone who is outside for at least ten to fifteen minutes each day.
Vitamin D can be supplemented by eating the right foods. See my previous blogpost about foods containing Vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone building by enabling calcium uptake by your body. It is also very important for healthy immune system function and may help lower your risk of contracting colds. Vitamin D also helps confer innate immunity which may protect your body from the influenza virus.
Vitamin D has been linked to the prevention of many different diseases, including multiple sclerosis, arthritis and even cancer. Children with higher vitamin D levels are less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies than those who are vitamin D deficient. Mental agility might be maintained by adequate levels of the vitamin, especially in the elderly.
Because Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, it is important for bone mineralization (hardening), which keeps your bones strong and supple. A sufficient amount of Vitamin D helps prevent joint pain and osteoporosis. There is also evidence suggesting that Vitamin D may play an important role in weight loss, both in adults and in children.
Some researchers are exploring whether vitamin D may act as a natural protector from low levels of radiation, such as the background radiation we receive from sunlight and other sources.
There are no clearly defined causes of vitamin D deficiency, however the obvious culprits are not eating right and a lack of activity in general, but especially outdoor activity. Adults and children who have poor diets are especially at risk. Risk factors for being vitamin D deficient include race, gender, and lifestyle, including time spent watching TV, playing video games or sitting in front of the computer.
People at high risk of having Vitamin D Deficiency Syndrome (VDDS) are often those who suffer from other disorders, such as autoimmune diseases, heart disease, osteoporosis, chronic pain and fatigue, and certain cancers. Symptoms for some of these disorders can be lessened by taking a Vitamin D supplement or eating more foods with vitamin d.
Other diseases and disorders, such as rickets, rheumatism, and osteoporosis (bone disease) can be exascerbated by a lack of vitamin D in the body. Hypocalcemic tetany, a condition in which the body is low in calcium due to vitamin D deficiency, casues overactive neurological reflexes, spasms of the extremeties (hands and feet) and larynx, and muscle cramps. Calcitriol, the form of vitamin D your body uses, plays a key role in the maintenance of many organ systems.
While essential to organ, bone and immune system health, it is not advisable to exceed the recommended dosage of vitamin D unless you are under the care of a medical doctor.
Taking too much vitamin D (more than 5000 IU per day) over a long period of time may cause excess calcium levels in the blood, which can worsen conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney stones, histoplasmosis (a fungus that is breathed in and grows in the lungs, possibly spreading to other organs), hyperparathyroidism, and lymphoma.
Shiitake & Button Mushrooms: Surprisingly, the dried versions of shiitake mushrooms are high in Vitamin D. This may be due to the fact that these mushrooms are adept at sucking up sunlight. Shiitake is also rich in B Vitamins like B1 & B2. Make sure that you find mushrooms that have been dried in the sun, not by some artificial means, in order to extract the benefits of high Vitamin D content.
Mackerel:A small, 3½ ounce portion of this Omega-3 rich fish will give you 90% of the recommended daily amount. Currently, the FDA recommends that we eat more of these oily fishes to infuse our bodies with the vitamins and omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA's) that our body cannot produce on its own.
A small 3½ ounces portion of cooked salmon will give you 90% of the Dietary Reference Intake for Vitamin D. Make sure to purchase salmon that has been caught from the wild, if not, then sustainably farmed. Salmon eat zooplankton, an excellent source of the important vitamin.
Herring:Fish like herring are so high in vitamin D because they are the part of our food chain that thrive on plankton, which is chocked full of the vitamin.
Sardines:Sardines are one of the best foods containing Vitamin D. One small tin can of sardines will provide you with approximately 70% of your daily needs. These tiny canned fish are also a great source for Vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, protein and selenium.
Catfish:Again, another fish that makes a habit of feeding on plankton, catfish are constantly taking in minuscule sea life that create vitamin D from sunlight.
Tuna fish:Eat 3 ounces of tuna daily for 50% of your Vitamin D needs. Fresh, wild-caught tuna is the most nutritious. Remember, eating oily fish can also lubricate the body with "good fats," providing a host of health benefits to your body, like better memory and brain function.
Cod Liver Oil:If you can stomach the strong aroma, this oil is super-rich in sunlight Vitamin D. This marvelously golden, yet terrible-tasting oil, is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Incorporating this oil into your diet will help you increase your bones ability to stay strong and healthy. Because of its high Vitamin D content, cod liver oil has also been shown to prevent osteoporosis in adult, improve brain function and optimize the functioning of the nervous system. What is more, the oil holds 10,000 IUs of vitamin D. One tablespoon of the oil provides more than enough Vitamin D for the day.
Eggs:Eggs are another food containing vitamin D in small amounts. Eating one egg will provide you with approximately 10% of your daily needs. I would personally recommend to eat free-range eggs from a local farm, if possible.
Sunshine:Okay, we know it's not a food, but daily "doses" of sunshine can seriously up your Vitamin D intake. In fact, this vitamin has actually been referred to as the sunshine vitamin. Light hitting the skin from the sun's rays stimulates the production of this vitamin and hormone. This is great news for those of us that can take a sun-bath daily. But for those of us in colder, cloudier climates, we can up our intake from the foods we eat. This could explain why Native Inuit people in Alaska ate so much fish!
There are many reasons to stock up on foods containing vitamin D. Health benefits of the vitamin include:
As I mentioned above, if you are a vegetarian or don't eat fish, you can still get the same benefits by taking a vitamin d supplement or make sure to get plenty of sun on a daily basis.
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