Vitamin D: for the normal growth of bones and teeth and for absorbing calcium and phosphorus
Vitamin D is a fat soluble family of compounds known as vitamins D1, D2 and D3.
It is related to the steroids and needed for the normal growth of bones and teeth and for absorbing calcium and phosphorus from the intestines.
It is obtained from food, and, uniquely among the vitamins, it can be created in the skin through the action of sunlight.
What does it do for your body?
The biologically active form of vitamin D is a hormone known as calcitriol.
Benefits of Vitamin D
- Bone - The most important role of vitamin D is to regulate the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorus, vital for normal growth and development of bones and teeth.
Vitamin D stimulates intestinal absorption and reabsorption in the kidneys as well as maintaining blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
It enables bones and teeth to harden by increasing the deposition of calcium and may also assist in the movement of calcium across body cell membranes.
- Immune System - Vitamin D may also be involved in immune system regulation and play a part in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
Parts of the bone marrow which produce immune cells are receptive to vitamin D.
- Fertility - Vitamin D is essential for strong pelvic bones and therefore plays an indirect role in fertility.
- Hormones - Vitamin D plays a role in the secretion of insulin by the pancreas thus aiding in the regulation of blood sugar.
It also affects the parathyroid gland and a hormone that it produces due to its calcium regulating role.
- Nervous System - Vitamin D ensures the functioning of healthy nerves and muscles by regulating the level of calcium in the blood.
Calcium is vital for normal nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
Absorption of Vitamin D
When taken orally, vitamin D is absorbed with fat through the intestinal walls. Vitamin D can be stored in the fat cells of the liver, skin, brain and bones in amounts sufficient for many months.
Exposure to sunlight in spring, summer and autumn makes up for any shortfall in dietary vitamin D and even short exposure to sunlight during these times is adequate, although there may be problems in winter months in some climates.
Babies under 12 months have stores of vitamin D which they accumulate while in the womb.
The production of vitamin D in the body is blocked by anything which blocks ultraviolet light including skin pigment, smog, fog, sunscreen, windows and hats. Deficiency of Vitamin D
In cases of vitamin D deficiency, the body increases production of a hormone that removes calcium from the bones. In children, this results in rickets where the bones are so soft that they become curved from supporting the weight of the body.
The equivalent in adults is osteomalacia with bone pain and tenderness and muscle weakness.
Other signs of deficiency include hearing loss (due to a softening of the bones in the inner ear), senile osteoporosis (where the bones become lighter and less dense) and severe tooth decay.
Older people may be at risk of vitamin deficiency since they do not absorb or manufacture vitamin D in their bodies as well as younger people.
Others at risk of deficiency include alcoholics, people who don’t drink milk or get much sunlight, those with fat absorption problems and darker skinned people living in colder climates.
Vitamin D is converted in the liver and kidneys to its active form so sufferers of kidney and liver diseases may also be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Therapeutic uses of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is recommended to support bone health in postmenopausal women.
Vitamin D may also be of benefit in the control of psoriasis. Interactions
Cholestyramine and mineral oil may interfere with the absorption of vitamin D. Alcohol interferes with the conversion of vitamin D to its biologically active form.
Pantothenic acid is necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D.
People taking certain anti-epileptic drugs may develop a form of resistance to vitamin D.
Effects of excess vitamin D
Too much vitamin D results in poisoning that causes a loss of appetite, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, diarrhea, and hardening of the soft tissues of the heart, blood vessels, renal tubules, and lungs.
Treatment consists of stopping the vitamin dosage and beginning a low-calcium diet until symptoms stop.
Sources of Vitamin D
The vitamin is present in natural foods in small amounts, and the needed amounts are usually gotten from various foods, especially milk and dairy products, and exposure to sunlight.
The natural foods containing vitamin D are of animal origin and include saltwater fish, especially salmon, sardines, and herring, organ meats, fish-liver oils, and egg yolk.
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