New benefits of Vitamin D are being discovered every day as an important part of a healthy diet. Yet many people still don’t get enough Vitamin D to reap the wonderful benefits it can offer to support good health. If you’re concerned about getting enough Vitamin D in your diet, here is a handy primer on those wonderful Vitamin D benefits and how to get them.
Vitamin D and Bone Health
One of the first things that come to mind when you think about Vitamin D and your health is the role that it plays in keeping your skeleton strong. Vitamin D is best known for contributing to dental, joint and bone health, aiding the body with calcium absorption. Calcium is the main building block of your skeleton. Your body needs a daily dose of Vitamin D to stay strong.
Studies have shown that people who get plenty of Vitamin D are less likely to fall victim to osteoporosis and joint pain. Another benefit of Vitamin D for many people is relief from arthritis and back pain. If you suffer from these common ailments, relief may be as simple as making a slight shift in your daily routine. Try adding a daily walk outdoors to your regimen, eating the right foods, or taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Other Health Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is reputed to help prevent certain types of cancer, including prostate, colon, breast and ovarian cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D’s properties as a tumor angiogenesis inhibitor play a role here. In plain English, that means Vitamin D prevents tumors from forming new blood vessels. The tumor shrinks because Vitamin D literally keeps it from getting nourishment.
As an immune system booster, Vitamin D is also pivotal in the prevention of other types of autoimmune disorders. In some types of depression, it’s one of the key ingredients in boosting mood. In other words, a dose of Vitamin D could bring you cheer on a rainy day.
How Do You Get Enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body. However, in order for the body to manufacture it, the skin has to be exposed to enough sunlight.
How much sunlight is enough? Reports vary, though many sources suggest that just 10 minutes a day is ample time to generate enough Vitamin D to meet your body’s needs.
This adds up to about an hour of direct sunlight per week, but surprisingly, many people still don’t get enough sun to produce the right amount of Vitamin D. The widespread use of sunscreen and sunblock products also contributes to Vitamin D deficiency, particularly in northern areas.
Foods Rich In Vitamin D
Even though the majority of Vitamin D is formed by exposing the skin to sunlight, there are some foods that naturally contain quantities of Vitamin D, known as vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol.
Vitamin D is found in cold-water fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin D is also found in cod liver oil and other fish liver oils. If you’re not a fish fan, there are lots of supplements available now that don’t have that fishy taste.
Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks contain small amounts of Vitamin D. Most of the pasteurized, homogenized milk in the U.S. has vitamin D added to it, and you can also get a daily dose from certain breakfast cereals, orange juice and milk substitutes like soy milk.
Where Does Vitamin D Go?
The type of Vitamin D that’s formed when sunlight contacts the skin is known as vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. The body manufactures it when ultraviolet rays in sunlight react with the cholesterol naturally found under the skin. In the liver Vitamin D3 is then “activated,” or converted to a more active form of Vitamin D, then delivered to where the body needs it most.
Some of the Vitamin D stays in the liver and kidneys, helping calcium re-absorption from the blood. Another portion of the Vitamin D is sent to the intestines to aid the absorption of calcium from food. It also goes to the bones to help them retain calcium.
While it’s important to have enough Vitamin D in your diet, it is possible to take in too much vitamin D. This can happen when someone gets plenty of sun exposure, eats lots of foods high in Vitamin D, and takes a Vitamin D supplement. If this sounds like you, talk to your healthcare professional about whether or not you need a Vitamin D supplement as part of your diet.
When it comes to Vitamin D and its many benefits, the thing to keep in mind is that deficiency is the most common problem. In this age of desk jockeys, couch potatoes, and night owls, the odds of getting too much of the “sunshine vitamin” are pretty low.
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