By Jamell Andrews
Over the last few years, study after study has shown that vitamin D is one of the most essential nutrients, helping people stay healthy in numerous ways. But even though most health-conscious adults are aware of its importance, vitamin D is still one of the most mysterious vitamins out there, and it is clouded in myth and mystery. So let us look at vitamin D from a natural-health perspective: Where does it come from, what does it do, and what makes it so important?
Sources of vitamin D
As anyone moderately familiar with nutrition knows, humans’ primary source of vitamin D is the sun. Unique among vitamins in this way, vitamin D is produced via complex chemical interactions that occur within the body when sunlight hits the skin. But the issue is complicated by other scientific revelations about the potentially damaging effects of sun overexposure, so at this point many medical authorities are reluctant to recommend people get most of their vitamin D from the sun.
Among the best food sources of vitamin D are many types of fish, including salmon, herring, catfish, and trout. Shellfish and oysters are also good sources. Outside the seafood realm, soy is a reliable source of vitamin D, as are milk, orange juice, mushrooms, and eggs. And when food sources are inadequate, one can also find many supplements, including fish oil, that contain high concentrations of vitamin D. In general, however, vitamins from natural sources are more effective than the concentrated forms found in supplements.
The benefits of vitamin D
As already mentioned, vitamin D has many benefits, affecting virtually every system in the body. Keeping in mind that new science on vitamin D is always emerging, here are a few of the more well-established benefits of vitamin D:
- It helps the absorption and metabolism of various other nutrients, including calcium and phosphorous.
- It promotes bone health.
- It helps keep the immune system balanced.
- It regulates blood sugar balances in the circulatory system.
- It has been shown to help prevent numerous diseases and conditions, including type-2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, several types of cancer, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
- It supports mental functioning and stabilizes mood.
- It helps slow mental deterioration during old age.
All in all, what makes vitamin D so important is that it is a sort of facilitator. It works with so many other vitamins and nutrients to keep all systems running smoothly, and vitamin D deficiency can cause all systems to run a little less efficiently.
How much vitamin D do you need?
According to the latest recommendations, everyone needs at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily, though some medical experts claim that 1000 IU is a good amount to aim for. Many multivitamins provide this much, but it is important to also monitor your vitamin D intake via food and sun exposure. If you regularly eat lots of foods that are rich in vitamin D or spend long hours in the sun, be careful when taking supplements.
There are levels that doctors do not recommend exceeding-namely, 3,000 or so for young children, and 4,000 for adults. While vitamin D is indisputably healthy, more does not necessarily equal better. At a certain amount, the body can no longer process it, and the excess may become useful and potentially damaging. So try to find a reasonable, natural balance, and get as much of it from your diet as possible. It is a good idea to get at least a few minutes of sun exposure per day, but too much, of course, increases one’s risk of cancer and other conditions. If you are not sure how much vitamin D is right for you, talk to your doctor.