THE BLOG

5 Important Things You Probably Didn't Know About Vitamin D

When it comes to getting the nutrients and minerals our bodies need, vitamin D should not be overlooked. You might know that this fat-soluble nutrient helps keep your bones strong, but it does so much more. Some of its benefits may even surprise you.
12/12/2014 06:02pm ET | Updated February 11, 2015
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

When it comes to getting the nutrients and minerals our bodies need, vitamin D should not be overlooked. You might know that this fat-soluble nutrient helps keep your bones strong, but it does so much more. Some of its benefits may even surprise you.

Here are five interesting facts about vitamin D, and how you can make sure you are receiving an adequate amount.

1. You get it through diet and sunlight.

Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine" vitamin because when your skin is exposed to the sun, your body manufactures it. Many people only need about 15 minutes of sun three times a week for their bodies to make adequate amounts of the vitamin, according to the National Institutes of Health.

However, when you're in a cloudy or shady area, or when you use sunscreen (which you should!) your body's ability to make vitamin D is reduced. In addition, ethnic groups with darker skin also produce lower amounts.

Fortunately, you can also get vitamin D from the food you eat. One of the best sources is fatty fish, including salmon and tuna. A 3-ounce serving of salmon contains about 450 international units (IU) of vitamin D.

In addition to fish, most milk sold in the U.S. is fortified with about 100 IU per cup. Other foods that often have the nutrient added are orange juice, yogurt and breakfast cereal. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is 600 IU for people ages 1 through 70, and 800 IU for older adults.

2. It helps boost the immune system.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen recently determined that vitamin D is necessary to activate the immune system's T-cells that identify and attack bad pathogens circulating throughout the body. Without enough of this vitamin, your body isn't as effective in fighting infection.

Your doctor may give you a blood test to determine if you have adequate levels of vitamin D in your system. If you don't have enough of the nutrient, you may need to take a supplement, either over-the-counter or by prescription.

As with any supplement, be sure to follow the doctor's instructions carefully. It's unusual for people to have too much of the vitamin, but it is possible. Vitamin D toxicity can lead to excess levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause nausea, vomiting and kidney problems.

3. It may help protect against chronic diseases.

Not only does vitamin D help boost the immune system, research suggests it may also help protect against many autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Interestingly, these diseases tend to be more prevalent in locations that are farther away from the equator, where people have less exposure to the sunlight the body needs to make vitamin D on its own.

A study from the University of Toronto found that for patients who already have MS, those who took a high dose of vitamin D supplements had a decrease in relapse rates.

There are also studies that show higher vitamin D intake is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. There is not enough evidence to recommend vitamin D to specifically prevent this disease, but more research is being done to examine the vitamin's impact on this and other illnesses.

4. It is essential for strong bones and teeth.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the food you eat, which is important for normal bone growth and development. Without enough of the nutrient, bones can become brittle and soft. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is linked to osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children.

5. It might help you lose weight.

A University of Minnesota clinical study found that people who started a diet with higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies were able to lose weight more successfully than people who were vitamin D-deficient, even though both groups were placed on a standardized reduced-calorie weight loss diet.

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition featured women dieters who did not get enough calcium in their diets. It found that one group who took a calcium and vitamin D supplement as part of their diet had more fat loss than another group who did not take the supplement. If you are trying to lose weight, these studies suggest that having adequate amounts of the vitamin can help you with your efforts.

Vitamin D has many benefits for the human body. Whether you get it through sunlight, diet, supplements, or a combination of all three, make sure you are receiving enough of this crucial nutrient. It's an important part of a healthy lifestyle and diet.

-----------

Also on The Huffington Post:

7 Signs You Have Vitamin Deficiency