Vitamin D or the “Sunshine” vitamin has become quite popular in the world of essential vitamins. In fact, recently, vitamin D has gained a reputation for being a miracle nutrient of sorts— boasting benefits of improving physical and mental well-being. But as more research emerges, just how vast the vitamin’s value is has become the subject of scientific debate.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin in a small group of compounds that includes vitamins D-1, D-2, and D-3. It can affect as many as 2,000 cells in the body. Technically, vitamin D isn’t a vitamin, but a type of hormone; it helps the body absorb calcium from food and plays a role in keeping bones strong, healthy and dense.
It is difficult to get from food sources alone, but most people can synthesize it in their skin when exposed to UVB light, which is present in sunlight.
Let’s dive into the benefits of Vitamin D.
5 Benefits of Vitamin D
Nearly every cell in the body needs vitamin D to function. It serves a variety of functions including maintaining optimal bone and muscle health, as well as having favorable effects on mental health and overall brain functioning. Below are five vitamin D benefits:
1. Helps fight disease and illnesses within the body
- It assists in reducing your risk of developing multiple sclerosis, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association 
- It decreases your chance of developing heart disease, according to 2008 findings published in Circulation 
- It helps to reduce the likelihood of developing the flu, according to 2010 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 
- It assists in reducing the risk of cancer. Research suggests that sufficient vitamin D levels in adulthood may significantly reduce the risk for many types of cancer, including colon, breast, ovarian, and prostate. Vitamin D is one of the most potent inhibitors of cancer-cell growth, and reduces the risk of cancer by increasing calcium absorption and cell differentiation, while reducing metastasis (the spread of cancer from one organ to another).
2. It helps fight depression
Research has shown that one of vitamin D’s benefits is that it can play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms. Researchers also found a correlation between those who struggle with anxiety and depression and vitamin D deficiency.
3. It can reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can lead to some devastating long-term complications, including nerve damage, heart disease, eye damage, vision loss, and kidney failure. Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D may play a significant role in reducing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes —especially in those who are predisposed for developing this disease. Several studies have shown improvements in beta cell function and insulin sensitivity with higher levels of vitamin D. A recent study calculated the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and found those with the highest baseline levels of vitamin D had a 38 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels.
4. It increases bone density and muscle function
When you think of strong bones, calcium most often comes to mind. Calcium is the major player when it comes to bone health and increasing bone mineral density, but vitamin D is an important factor in how your body absorbs and processes calcium. Vitamin D is essential in ensuring calcium deposition occurs in bones, which makes them stronger and healthier. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency is relatively common in athletes and is associated with muscle weakness  and atrophy, specifically Type 2 muscle fiber atrophy. Skipping out on this vitamin is essentially just as bad as skipping time at the gym.
5. It promotes healthy hair and vibrant skin
This is the most superficial of all of the vitamin D benefits however, let’s face it, we all want to look young and hot and vitamin D is our ticket.
According to New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D.:
“Vitamin D is a key ingredient for beautiful looking skin. Skin, like all organs, needs vital vitamins to function properly—and vitamin D is one of them.”
Having sufficient vitamin D in the skin helps minimize acne, boosts elasticity, stimulates collagen production, enhances radiance, and lessens the appearance of fine lines and dark spots.
Getting Vitamin D
Very few foods contain copious amounts of vitamin D naturally. Because of this, some foods are fortified –especially foods containing calcium–with this vitamin. A short list of foods that contain vitamin D and that should be incorporated into your diet include:
- egg yolk
- milk (fortified)
- cereal (fortified)
- yogurt (fortified)
- orange juice (fortified)
Sensible sun exposure (without sunscreen for up to ten minutes at a time) and supplements are two other ways to boost vitamin D intake. As with all things, there are side effects to taking in too much of the vitamin–especially for those with certain sensitivities– so always consult a medical professional before making any serious changes to your health regimen.
In addition, you can consider taking vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining good health and well-being. From bone health to lowering the risk of chronic diseases, this essential nutrient has a long list of scientifically proven health benefits.
You can ensure that your body gets enough vitamin D by spending time in the sun, eating vitamin D-rich foods, or taking supplements.
So, to reap the many health benefits of vitamin D, include it in your diet and lifestyle.
Featured photo credit: Theme Farmer via flickr.com