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Vitamin D and Its Role in the Body

spoonful of vitamin D supplements Revision: surgical instruments lined up on teal backdrop

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in our overall health and wellness. While most people are aware of its importance in maintaining bone health, this vitamin also acts as a powerful antioxidant, as well as helping support the immune system. New research also suggests vitamin D plays a role in supporting mental and emotional health. Because of its importance in so many ways, it’s essential to ensure we get enough of this vitamin daily. Though most of our vitamin D comes directly from the sun, fortified foods and supplements can fill any gaps.

The most well-known job of vitamin D is to help increase calcium absorption. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium that circulates in the blood, and adequate vitamin D intake can help prevent losing calcium from the bones, which could cause them to weaken over time. This is known as osteoporosis. Therefore, many foods high in calcium also contain added vitamin D (think milk and some cereals). It’s also why bariatric patients often take a calcium supplement in addition to their daily multi. The best way to increase calcium in the diet is by adding leafy greens to at least one daily meal, but after surgery, you will likely need more help.

While vitamin D’s function as an antioxidant is not well-established, many new studies show that it may play a role in preventing cancer risk. This vitamin is also known to support the immune system. For example, vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of infection, including Covid-19. Vitamin D can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, which may improve overall health. A few studies have shown that populations living in sunnier climates tend to have lower rates of certain diseases, which makes sense considering that most of our vitamin D is obtained from sun exposure.

Vitamin D is now thought to be related to mental health. Many studies show a link between vitamin D and the risk of depression/anxiety. In these studies, people with persistent depression and anxiety were shown to have slightly lower levels of vitamin D. However, most experts believe there is no benefit to taking a vitamin D supplement unless there is a deficiency (to be clinically low, groups would have to be less than 30 ng/mL).

Why is vitamin D associated with depression if it likely is not the cause? Many researchers believe that individuals who are depressed are more likely to isolate and spend less time outdoors. Therefore, they would not be getting enough exposure to the sun for their body to produce vitamin D. You can imagine these same people may have difficulty losing weight or maintaining their weight loss.

Prioritizing a vitamin that is estimated to regulate about 3% of the human genome is clearly important. While some foods naturally contain small amounts of this fat-soluble vitamin (cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, and eggs), the best way to get vitamin D is from the sun. Most experts recommend being in the sun for about 15 minutes per day to be exposed to enough UV rays for the body to produce adequate vitamin D, but this varies depending on the climate and time of year.

While the research on the effects of vitamin D is new and not entirely conclusive, naturally obtaining plenty of this vitamin significantly benefits our overall health and wellness. You should also speak to your doctor to develop a plan if you are deficient in this critical vitamin.

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