Some people call vitamin D the sunshine vitamin for a good reason. This crucial substance is not really a vitamin – it is a hormone that your body produces in response to the sun.
However, getting enough intake either through exposure to the sun or through dietary means is essential for many systems in your body to function as intended. This nutrient benefits everything from your teeth to your immune system. Here are six ways vitamin D benefits the body and how to get more of it.
The health benefits of vitamin D
While Western medicine treats the human body in a compartmentalized fashion – take this pill for your eyes and this one for your heart – the reality is much more complex. Everything you put into your body affects multiple systems, and nutrients are no exception. Here are six ways vitamin D benefits the body.
1. It stimulates the production of endorphins
Endorphins are natural chemicals in the body that act like opioids without side effects, destroying pain and improving your mood. In a 2007 study, researchers found that the popularity of tanning beds resulted from the rush of this feel-good hormone that people feel when exposed to ultraviolet light. Correcting an underlying vitamin D deficiency can help treat many addictions.
2. It’s vital for bone health
When you think of nutrients that help your bones, your mind is probably turning to calcium. However, your body cannot absorb this mineral without sufficient supplies of vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium in your gut, helping you maintain the ideal serum calcium and phosphorus level for normal bone mineralization.
Vitamin D is also crucial for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Insufficient intake of this nutrient can lead to weak bones and frequent fractures. It also increases your risk of osteoporosis.
3. It strengthens immunity
Vitamin D impacts the cells of your immune system, helping them to treat infections. Even before scientists fully understood the uses of this nutrient, they unwittingly used exposure to the sun and cod liver oil – rich in vitamin D – to treat tuberculosis. People with deficiencies often suffer from more frequent infections.
Vitamin D deficiency can also play a role in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and lupus. A lower maternal intake of this nutrient during pregnancy increases the risk that your child will develop any of these disorders.
Some researchers believe that high levels of vitamin D could lower your risk of getting severe COVID-19. While the evidence is mixed, it might not hurt to increase your time spent outdoors or eating foods high in this nutrient.
4. It reduces inflammation
Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation, especially that frequently associated with autoimmune diseases. It regulates the production of inflammatory cytokines and inhibits the proliferation of pro-inflammatory cells. It may also play a role in conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease related to atherosclerosis, asthma, chronic kidney disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
5. It improves heart function
A growing number of studies indicate that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in heart attacks and strokes. The VITAL 2018 study shows, however, that supplementation in excessive amounts is potentially dangerous.
The bottom line? Balance matters in all things. Excessive amounts could increase the risk of the blood calcifying, forming plaques in your arteries, especially if you are also taking a calcium supplement. If you choose to supplement, do not exceed the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA).
6. It helps build muscle
Some studies show a correlation between vitamin D supplementation and increased muscle strength. High serum levels of this nutrient can reduce injury rates and improve athletic performance.
Ways to get more vitamin D
Now that you understand how crucial vitamin D is for health, how can you increase your intake without overdoing it? Here are three methods:
- Go outside – The easiest, and possibly the most effective, way to get your vitamin D is free, too. Get out in the sun for at least 10 to 15 minutes every day – more is better. You cannot overdose using this method. Your body will not produce more than it needs.
- Improve your diet – If you’re a pescatarian, you’re in luck. Fish like cod, tuna, salmon, herring and sardines are rich in this nutrient. You’ll also find it in mushrooms and eggs. Many manufacturers fortify their prepared foods with this nutrient, but opt for whole foods when possible.
- Extra charge – You can find vitamin D supplements in almost any grocery or health food store. Please don’t go overboard – stick to the recommended amount.
Vitamin D benefits the body in so many ways!
The sunshine vitamin benefits several systems in your body. Start getting more by using a few easy methods!