Vitamin D is a vitamin that helps your body to process and use the calcium that you take in. It’s important in maintaining strong bones, supporting our immune system, and may even reduce our risk of certain chronic conditions. Vitamin D deficiency however doesn’t always come with symptoms, but it has been associated with cancer, severe asthma in children, and cognitive impairment in adults.
Our body can actually make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. It also shows up in a few foods, mostly meat and dairy. Though food isn’t always a great source of vitamin D. Many people who don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun get it from a vitamin supplement, instead.
But why bother getting it at all? Well, it turns out that vitamin D offers a wide range of health benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
1. Strong, healthy bones
Vitamin D helps regulate and process the amount of calcium and phosphorous in the body. It absorbs calcium in the intestines, and it helps the body turn these minerals into healthy bones. Children with a vitamin D deficiency may develop Rickets disease, which can cause delays in growth, as well as pain in the spine and pelvis. Adults with a vitamin D deficiency may develop osteomalacia, or softening of the bone, and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease marked by low bone density that can cause fractures, fragility, and pain. Although osteoporosis seems benign, it is actually a hige burden economically and health-wise. The number of fractures associated with osteoporosis even outnumbers the number of heart attacks, stroked, and breast cancer combined. Not to mention many people with fractures never leave the hospital…Vitamin D protects against these things at any age, keeping your skeleton strong and healthy.
2. Benefits during pregnancy
Of course, if you’re pregnant, your bones aren’t the only ones to be thinking about. A fetus doesn’t have any way to get vitamin D apart from maternal stores, and it’s building bones from scratch! One study gave a group of pregnant women very high doses of vitamin D and found that not only was there no evidence of harm, but they had half the rate of pregnancy-related complications as women who took less. Those complications included gestational diabetes, preterm birth, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, and preeclampsia.
You may not want to take quite so much vitamin D as the study indicates (4000 IU). Levels that high are still widely regarded as potentially harmful. But if you’re taking vitamins for two, you may want to consider increasing your vitamin D intake.
3. Slower progression of kidney disease
We mentioned earlier that Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorus in the body. This is particularly important for one group of people—people living with kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidney isn’t functioning correctly. This means that waste and toxins aren’t getting filtered out of the body like they need to be. This buildup can snowball, as a backlog of work on the already-struggling kidneys causes further damage.
With kidney disease, substances that aren’t normally harmful can build up to dangerous levels—including calcium and phosphorus. For anyone with kidney disease, maintaining calcium and phosphorus is important. For people in the last stage of kidney disease (called end stage renal disease), it’s especially important. At this point, the kidneys aren’t working at all, and people need either a transplant or regular dialysis treatments to replicate kidney function. In between treatments, it’s important to minimize the buildup of waste, toxins, and fluids. That means (among other things) regulating calcium and phosphorus with medicines called phosphate binders, and with vitamin D.
4. Cancer prevention
The science is still out on this one, but it seems that there may be a link between getting enough vitamin D and a lower risk of certain types of cancers. We know that Calcitriol, the form of vitamin D that’s active in the body, regulates cell growth and cell differentiation. We also know that lower amounts of vitamin D are associated with an increased rate of some cancers, including colon cancer and breast cancer. What we’re still figuring out is which one of those things is the cause, and which is the effect – can the cancer be the lowering our levels of vitamin D or is the low amount of vitamin D be increasing our risk of cancer? Still, with all of vitamin D’s other benefits, making sure you get enough can’t hurt.
5. Mental health
Vitamin D seems to have multiple positive effects on the brain. Though, like, cancer, we’re still sorting out questions of cause and effect. One of these potential benefits is a lower risk of depression. Another is the risk of Alzheimer’s. We’re still sorting out the role that vitamin D plays in our ability to think and on brain health in general. But as the Vitamin D Council points out, “vitamin D is remarkably safe, and depression is remarkably dangerous”.
Jenny Hart is a health and wellness writer with a passion for travel, cycling and books. Her focus is topics related to the effects of aging on health and she is interested in research that can help people age better. When she isn’t writing or travelling, she’s traversing NYC with her two dogs Poochie and Ramone.