The best-known role of Vitamin D is to keep bones healthy by increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium. Without enough vitamin D, the body can only absorb 10% to 15% of dietary calcium. However, the less known fact is that supplementing with vitamin D in people with low levels lowers the risk of dying from any cause by 60% according to an article in the November 7, 2011 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology looking at 10,000 people. This landmark study revealed that elevating low levels of vitamin D makes a profound difference in mortality.The existing epidemic of vitamin D deficiency is responsible for a growing number of cases of heart attacks, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes,immune deficiency disorders.
Vitamin D and Cardiovascular Diseases
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with 40% higher risk of hypertesion, 30% increased risk of cardiomyopathy,twice the risk of type 2 diabetes and a three times higher risk for all cause mortality. Much evidence supports a potential antiatherosclerotic effect of this vitamin (which is actually a hormone) – it has been shown to affect inflammation and cell proliferation and differentiation. Some studies also found direct effects of vitamin D on the cardiovascular system because Vitamin D receptors exist in a variety of tissues, including cardiomyocytes, vascular smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells. In video interviews below, Dr. Prendergast talks about the role of vitamin D in the body and how it affects our health.
Vitamin D and Cancer
Vitamin D has an important role in regulating cell growth. Laboratory experiments suggest that it helps prevent the unrestrained cell multiplication that characterises cancer by reducing cell division and restricting tumor blood supply (angiogenesis), increasing the death of cancer cells (apoptosis), and limiting the spread of cancer cells (metastasis).
Researchers now agree that the epidemic of a wide variety of cancers may be due to widespread vitamin D deficiency caused in large part by lack of exposure to sun. The cancers most strongly linked to low levels of vitamin D are Breast, Colon, Lung and Prostate cancer.
In 2005, Wei Zhou, a researcher working with Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, reported that evidence suggests vitamin D aids in the survival of lung cancer patients. Other similar studies in Norway and England back this assertion. In the same year, another Harvard School of Public Health research fellow, Dr. Ying Zhou, along with Professor David Christiani, found that early stage lung cancer patients with the highest vitamin D input, lived almost three times longer than patients with the lowest input.
Read more about Vitamin D3’s Anti-Cancer properties.
Vitamin D and Brain Function
Because of the many vitamin D receptors in the brain, it has been discovered that vitamin D plays a very important role in maintaining and achieving a healthy mind. Though more research in this particular area of vitamin D functions is needed, it is worth mentioning since vitamin D has been indicated in children with brain dysfunction (its exact mechanisms are still unclear at present).
Though behavioral and cognitive difficulties and their association to low vitamin D levels is still a little sketchy, what is known is how low vitamin D levels affect depression in the elderly. Accompanied by an overactive parathyroid, low vitamin D levels have been implicated to increase depression in older adults, and in other mental disorders. This information is particularly important because, instead of treating patients with dangerous psychotropic medications that have hazardous side effects, depression could in the future be treated with a higher intake of vitamin D or more calcium and exposure to sunlight.
Low Levels of Vitamin D: Type I and Type 2 Diabetes
Deficiency of Vitamin D has been associated with both Type I and Type 2 diabetes and with metabolic syndrome (a combination of high blood pressure, abnormal blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, insulin resistance and excess abdominal fat that often goes along Type 2 diabetes). It is still not understood how vitamin D helps the body regulate blood glucose – there seems to be several ways. While it does not appear that diabetes can be cured with vitamin D, as studies suggest, this vitamin can help suffers manage diabetes.
New researches on so-called sunshine vitamin has shown that it plays a role in many more bodily system that just the skeletal system. Deficiency of this vitamin is now associated with the development of numerous diseases from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes to complications of pregnancy.
How Much Vitamin D is Enough?
The recommended dosage is usually between 2 and 5000 IU of vitamin D, but it is very important to measure the level of vitamin D to determine the dosage needed. Factors which contribute to vitamin D deficiency in population include use of sun screen, dark skin, clothing, season and age. UVB rays, needed to make vitamin D in our skin, provide 90% of our vitamn D, but these rays are absent during winter and cannot penetrate clothing, fog, smog, clouds or window.
Looking at evidence which suggested a link between low vitamin D status and depression, one population-based prospective study ( 1,282 participants of the ages between 65 and 95) found that vitamin D3 levels in those participants who had major depression were around 14% lower than in those who were not depressed.