By Jamell Andrews
Among all the essential vitamins and minerals, Vitamin D is one of the strangest. There are some food sources that provide Vitamin D, but we mostly get it from the sun. Or more accurately, we produce it ourselves when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. But although many people are aware of this basic fact, there have been many misconceptions purveyed around this essential vitamin, especially in the cosmetics and food industries. Let us take a closer look at Vitamin D and explore what it actually does and how it benefits us.
How Vitamin D is produced
In order for the skin to produce Vitamin D, it must be exposed to sunlight with a UV index of at least 3. In tropical regions, this intensity of sun is available on a daily basis year-round. In more temperate areas such as North America and Europe, sunlight of this intensity occurs mainly during the warmer seasons of the months. In colder regions, especially beyond the Arctic and Antarctic circles, 3-intensity sunlight is hardly ever available.
Vitamin D is produced in the lower levels of the epidermal (outer) layer of skin. The exact mechanism is rather complicated, but to put it simply, the skin contains a cholesterol known as provitamin D3, which reacts with UVB rays to change into Vitamin D. Once it is produced, the vitamin enters the bloodstream and is processed by the liver and kidneys before moving to the rest of the body to provide its benefits.
Vitamin D is one of the most essential vitamins out there-so essential, in fact, that we cannot live without it-yet this is no reason to cut back on sunscreen or to spend inordinate amounts of time in the sun. In fact, research has suggested that as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure per day are enough to produce the amount of Vitamin D that humans need. Meanwhile, a slightly different form of the vitamin is available in foods such as eggs and fish. There are also Vitamin D supplements that can help make up for any deficiency.
The health benefits of Vitamin D
In most of its uses within the body, Vitamin D plays a crucial helping role in the maintenance and absorption of other vitamins and minerals. In the blood, Vitamin D helps regulate levels of phosphorous and calcium. The vitamin also helps in the absorption of calcium, which contributes to strong bones.
All in all, research has shown that Vitamin D helps in the prevention of hypertension, osteoporosis, several types of cancer, and certain forms of autoimmune diseases. Meanwhile, a shortage of Vitamin D can also lead to some very specific illnesses. In young children, a deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to rickets, a condition that results in permanent skeletal deformities. In adults, a lack of Vitamin D can lead to osteomalacia, a condition that leads to weak bones and muscular problems.
Certain groups of people are at higher risk for Vitamin D deficiencies. For example, the elderly, obese people, and infants often develop Vitamin D deficiencies due to their unique health concerns. People with certain illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or Crohn’s disease also commonly suffer shortages. Meanwhile, anyone who, due to employment or lifestyle factors, has limited sun exposure should make an effort to consume Vitamin D-rich foods or take supplements to help make sure they get this crucial nutrient.