Vitamin D is both a vitamin and a precursor to the production of hormones in the body. Your skin naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun without sunscreen. Because of the perceived risk of skin cancer, however, many people do not get enough sun exposure to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, the amount of vitamin D you need depends upon age, skin pigment and the area of the world in which you live. Darker-skinned people and those living in northern latitudes will produce significantly less vitamin D through their skin than other groups.
Conditions Caused by Vitamin D Deficiency
Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to several different health problems that relate to the way in which this vitamin is used in the body. One function of vitamin D is to help maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, according to MayoClinic.com. Classic vitamin D deficiency conditions include rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, both of which lead to muscle weakness and weak bones. More recently, a lack of vitamin D has been linked to hypertension, cancer and several autoimmune diseases, including Graves’ disease, a type of hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. Deficiency in vitamin D is also linked to heart disease, osteoarthritis, depression, migraines and systemic lupus, according to Dr. Cynthia Buxton, N.D.
Getting Enough Vitamin D
All studies followed by the Vitamin D Council have shown that a majority of people are deficient in vitamin D, especially African Americans, as reported at Mercola.com. Young white adults can make 20,000 units of vitamin D with exposure to the sun for several minutes in their bathing suits during the summer. This exceeds the amount required to maintain good health. To receive adequate amounts of sun exposure you need between 15 and 20 minutes of sun exposure in your clothing without sunscreen. The elderly, those who are never in the sun, darker-skinned people and those who wear sunscreen are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Three options for increasing your vitamin D intake are sun lamps, exposure to the sun or oral supplementation.
Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism, in which antibodies in your body stimulate your thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone, according to MayoClinic.com. In a study published in February 2009 in the journal “Endocrinology,” researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine found that mice who had Graves' disease and induced vitamin D deficiency developed persistent hyperthyroidism, even after the disease was reversed. These mice were first injected with a virus that induced Graves' disease and then immunized against the virus. The most important effect of the vitamin D on the mice that the research discovered was on the thyroid gland and not on the immune response of the mice.