Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Role of Vitamin D

People with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of having breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, and other illnesses. While studies do not prove that lack of vitamin D causes disease, or that vitamin D supplements would lower the risk, still, it pays to know its benefits in our over-all health and wellness.

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). You also need vitamin D for other important body functions, such as to regulate the immune system and the neuromuscular system.

According to The Vitamin D Council, a scientist-led group promoting vitamin D deficiency awareness, vitamin D might be found helpful in treating or preventing autism, autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hyperparathyroidism, high blood pressure, flu, neuromuscular diseases, and osteoporosis. However, there have been no definitive clinical trials.

The role of vitamin D in the life cycle of human cells is so important that our body is able to produce it by itself. However, this is only possible after sufficient exposure to sunlight. Allowing five to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the face, legs, or back, minus the sunscreen, for at least twice a week should be enough to give you all the vitamin D that is necessary.

On the other hand, too much direct sun exposure can expose you to potentially dangerous levels of cancer-causing UV radiation. That is why experts recommend getting vitamin D from foods or from supplements.

Unfortunately, there are very few foods that contain vitamin D, which includes cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna or sardines canned in oil, milk (regardless of whether it’s whole, nonfat, or reduced fat), egg yolks, beef or calf liver, cheese.

Surprisingly, almost all milk brands in the U.S. are fortified with vitamin D. The same with many brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.

Vitamin D comes in different forms. Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is the natural form of vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight. Supplements are made from the fat of lambs’ wool. Other supplements contain vitamin D2 or calciferol, which is derived from irradiated fungus.

WebMD nutritionist Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, recommends using the D3 form for those taking vitamin D supplements.

Resource Box : Monch Bravante is a freelance writer and advertising practitioner with special interest in public health issues.

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