The Sunshine Vitamin!!
When we were kids, our parents and grandparents told us to drink our milk right? It was common place for kids to drink milk with meals, maybe even splash in some chocolate syrup or Ovaltine to make a chocolaty tasty treat. They would tell us that drinking our milk would give us strong bones and teeth…but how?
Well of course animal milk contains calcium, that’s what bones are made of, but it also has something just as important added in, but which doesn’t get as much attention, and it’s something we all lack across the globe, Vitamin D!
Vitamin D, the active form is called Calcitriol, is used by our bodies for lots of different things. It is one of the main drivers in calcium-phosphate homeostasis, in other words, it tells the calcium where to go. Think traffic control officer, with the whistle, white gloves, and those sick dance moves. Without calcitriol, we wouldn’t be able to set down bone effectively, which means our bones would get brittle and break a lot more easily.
Vitamin D has been shown to also regulate the expression of various neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine and dopamine. So, without Vitamin D, the nerves have a harder time talking to the rest of the body, like trying to talk through a static filled phone at a heavy metal concert… it's tough. Caciltriol is currently believed to be able to help prevent and treat neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Vitamin D also has a complex, and often tissue dependent role in immunity. In some instances, Vitamin D will activate a type of white blood cell called a macrophage, which gobble up bacteria and viruses. In other instances Vitamin D helps other white blood cells to mature, and get past that awkward teen phase and send them to work. There are several other immune functions that Vitamin D has a hand in, some are well documented, others are still a mystery, but we are finding more and more that we use calcitriol for a whole host of functions.
So, why do we lack Vitamin D like we said earlier? It’s the video games! Well, to be fair, its the indoor lifestyle we’ve adopted globally. We, as humans, tend to live in dwellings, and work inside buildings, or under canopies, all of which block the suns ultraviolet (UV) rays from us. This lack of Vitamin D contributes, in some part, to many of our common ailments, like low bone density, fatigue, neurological issues, cardiovascular and blood pressure issues. It does a lot!
How are Vitamin D and UV rays connected? We have a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol that hangs out in our skin waiting to catch some sweet rays. Once the sun gets a chance to greet us, that 7-dehydrocholesterol absorbs some of the UV radiation, and gets converted into Vitamin D. So, that’s why we call it the sunshine vitamin!
Can we get Vitamin D anywhere else, other than the sun? We sure can! There are several foods that contain Vitamin D naturally, like salmon, egg yolk, cod liver oil, herring, sardines… If those don’t sound appetizing to you, there are other options. Have you ever looked at a cereal box and noticed it says “fortified?” That means that Vitamin D has been added to the food in question, trying to combat the global lack of the sunny vitamin. So, things like cows milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereals, and oatmeals all get fortified with Vitamin D. We can also buy capsules of cod liver oil, or powdered Vitamin D at the local pharmacy. Getting nutrients from normal food sources is generally a better decision, but it's better to take a vitamin in capsule form than simply not get it at all.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional about proper dosages of Vitamin D, as it is not water soluble and can build up too much. However, we generally need so much Vitamin D to function at our best that we never exceed the safe dosages. So, with a normal, informed and reasonable diet, a good amount of sunshine, and maybe some fishy capsules, you can be sure to have a healthy amount of Vitamin D for your body to use as needed!
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Wacker, M. and Holick, M.F. (2013) Sunlight and vitamin D: A global perspective for health, Dermato-endocrinology. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897598/ (Accessed: December 6, 2022).
Zmijewski, M.A. (2019) Vitamin D and human health, International journal of molecular sciences. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6337085/ (Accessed: December 6, 2022).