Vitamin D is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins needed by the human body. Unlike other vitamins however, vitamin D is not only found in food, but it is also produced by the body after exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D works best in conjunction with calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D is involved in the regulation of the immune system, making it important for overall health. It is important to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D, as it may be linked to the decreased incidence of certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis and other chronic disorders.
Osteoporosis and Other Bone Disorders
Vitamin D helps your body to absorb and use calcium, a mineral necessary for strong bones and teeth. Therefore, adequate vitamin D levels during childhood are especially important to promote bone formation. Additionally, post-menopausal women require sufficient vitamin D levels due to decreased bone density and the increased risk of osteoporosis, a bone disorder characterized by porous, brittle bones. Taking a vitamin D supplement along with calcium can significantly reduce bone loss, the incidence of osteoporosis and related fractures. Vitamin D can help to prevent rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. These disorders cause softening and weakening of the bones.
Proper nutrition is the hallmark of preventing chronic disorders such as diabetes. Vitamin D plays an integral role in the prevention of such conditions. In the November/December 2008 issue of "Diabetes Educator," Sue Penckofer, PhD, and colleagues at the Niehoff School of Nursing in Chicago, establish a strong link between vitamin D levels and diabetes. Diabetes patients are at risk for developing diabetes related complications. The researchers found that adequate levels of vitamin D may help to reduce complications associated with diabetes such as cardiovascular disease, renal insufficiency and peripheral neuropathy. The list also includes myocardial infarction, angina and atherosclerosis.
According to Cedric F. Garland et al. in the February 2006 issue of "American Journal of Public Health," there is strong evidence that vitamin D intake or synthesis is associated with the reduced incidence and death rate of cancer, especially colon, breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. While there are numerous epidemiological and laboratory studies that document this association, no human studies have directly measured the preventative effect of vitamin D on cancer. Consequently, public health and medical communities have not adopted the use of vitamin D for cancer prevention purposes.
Individuals with low serum levels of vitamin D are at a greater risk of developing heart disease compared to people with adequate levels of vitamin D. This includes incidences of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Additionally, people with insufficient vitamin D stores are more likely to experience high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors. A vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of calcium buildup contributing to plaque formation in arteries that leads to stroke or heart disease. Vitamin D is also thought to play a role in controlling blood pressure and preventing artery damage. More research is needed to conclusively document the benefits of vitamin D for cardiovascular health.