Vitamin D plays a vital role in our body: it helps us absorb calcium. It also plays a fundamental role in the nervous system, muscles and immune system.
A deficiency of vitamin D can therefore lead us to suffer from serious bone problems like osteoporosis and rickets. In this article, find out when we should consume vitamin D and how.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble provitamin (as are vitamins A, E and K) which has the function of enabling good absorption of calcium. In fact, it acts as a hormone in the metabolism of this compound.
Some illnesses, such as rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis are linked to a lack of calcium, however, their origin is more accurately a result of poor absorption of this mineral (Ca) due to the lack of vitamin D.
This poor absorption can be due to:
- A lack of this vitamin in the diet.
- Lack of exposure to the sun.
- A liver or kidney disorder.
- Some medicines also interfere with its absorption.
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Vitamin D deficiency
If we don’t get or absorb enough vitamin D into our body we will suffer a loss of bone density.
- This problem can lead us to suffer from osteoporosis or to fracture our bones easily.
- It can also lead to bone and muscle weakness, pain and more serious states of osteomalacia.
- In the case of children, this lack tends to cause rickets, an illness which softens and bends the bones.
Also, in a more subtle and more difficult to detect way, a deficiency of vitamin D can influence cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases and cancer.
However, this last case has still to be researched.
How do we get it?
We can get vitamin D in three different ways:
- Through the skin, through sun exposure. In this case, our body makes this vitamin naturally.
- Through our diet, with foods rich in this vitamin.
- Through supplements.
The best source: the sun
When we expose our skin to the sun, we receive ultraviolet (UV) rays, which activate an essential compound for the formation of vitamin D.
This is then available for the body in the same way as if we had eaten it in foods.
- It is advisable to expose our skin to the sun without protection, for a maximum of 30 minutes.
- The ideal option is to start with 5 minutes a day and increase this gradually each week until our skin is used to the sun’s rays.
- What it is never wise to do is expose our skin to the sun for hours without protection.
Sources in foods
By consuming foods that contain vitamin D, we absorb it in the intestine thanks to the support of bile. This confirms the importance of good liver function for the absorption of this vitamin.
In the same way, we can say that poor liver or gallbladder function significantly unbalances its absorption.
The animal products that are rich in vitamin D are as follows:
- Very oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines or mackerel)
- Cod liver oil
- Beef and turkey liver
- Egg yolks
- Butter or ghee
- Raw milk
We can also find some vegetable sources of vitamin D:
This is also a great variety of foods that are enriched with vitamin D, like milk, margarine and cereals.
However, it is always much better if the vitamin is present naturally or in a supplement.
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When are supplements advisable?
When we live in places with little sun and we can’t expose our skin to the sun often, or during the Winter, it is necessary to reinforce our intake with a vitamin D3 supplement.
This should be almost essential for people who do not eat products of animal origin.
It is also advisable if we tend to suffer from low or poor calcium absorption, or during the menopause if a reduction in our bone density is detected.
In general this vitamin is well tolerated in doses of up to 2000 IU. However, we shouldn’t go over 1000 IU without medical supervision.