Vitamin D is gaining more and more prominence for its health benefits and the role it plays in our body. It used to be primarily linked to bone health – but, as you’ve probably heard already, vitamin D’s effects go far beyond that.
It has several forms (vitamin D2 and D3 being the major ones) and all of them play an important role in our overall well-being – right from improving our sleep, to protecting us from infections [1, 2].
Why vitamin D is important for our health?
Vitamin D regulates at least 800 genes in the human body , affecting almost every aspect of our health and body, including:
It largely affects the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential to the formation of bones .
It strengthens our muscles by helping form the protein within them, and by enhancing our nervous system’s ability to contract them .
It regulates the gene and proteins that help immune cells grow, mature, and function [6, 7]. Its deficiency can increase our susceptibility to infections and the risk of autoimmunity (a state where an individual’s immune system starts attacking healthy cells) [8, 9].
Lower levels of vitamin D can lead to higher blood pressure (HBP) or hypertension. HBP increases the strain on our coronary arteries, causing damage and increasing the risk of a heart attack [10, 11].
Skin and hair
Even after the constant emphasis on the importance of vitamin D, there’s a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency throughout India, for all age groups .
How to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D?
Exposing your arms and legs to the sun for just 15 to 30 minutes (twice a week) can be enough to prevent a vitamin D deficiency. Having said that, it also depends on the following :
The melanin (colour pigment) present in our skin absorbs the sun’s UV-B rays to protect our skin from radiation. So, the darker the skin tone, the more time it will take for your skin to produce the required amount of vitamin D.
The strength of the sun’s UV rays varies by location, influencing the amount of vitamin D it can produce in the body.
Wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 can reduce vitamin D production in the skin by more than 95%.
Fishes like salmon, mackerel, etc. have a decent amount of vitamin D, but to reach the required amount, they would need to be consumed daily. On the other hand, plant-based foods do not have enough vitamin D in them – in this case, the sun becomes an exceedingly important source .
While vitamin D fortified milk and oil are available in India, supplementation is key to fulfilling the daily requirement or treating a deficiency. Evidence suggests that vitamin D3 is thrice as potent as vitamin D2, making it a better option for a supplement .
Pro tip: Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, consuming it with fats would increase its absorption. It’s best to take your supplement with or after a meal.
While this captures a quick overview of the importance of vitamin D and how to consume it, you can read about it in more detail. Click here for a deep dive on this important nutrient.