Vitamin D the Sunny Steroid
Although many people associate the word steroid with bulky guys injecting themselves with some dodgy black market substances, this is all but a true representation. The human body itself already produces steroids and Vitamin D is one of them. Your skin is one big hormonal gland that produces the steroid hormone cholecalciferolÂ (a.k.a. Vitamin D) when exposed to sunlight. Steroid hormones are nothing but substances derived from cholesterol that can pass through your cell membranes. After this they change what DNA your body uses, effectively changing your cells programming. Vitamin D in particular has a broad range of effects, all of which are pretty beneficial.
This is the most commonly known function of Vitamin D. Basically what it does is increase the intake of calcium in the intestines. Yes this does still hinge on a proper calcium intake, but it makes the calcium you eat more readily available to your body. It also promotes bone resorption by increasing osteoclasts (bone regulating cells). A deficiency in Vitamin D can result in lower bone density and bone fracture. Make sure that if you take Vitamin D for the purpose of stronger bones you also have adequate calcium intake from for example dairy products. If you use supplementation keep in mind your calcium/magnesium balance (most shops will sell a calcium/magnesium combo for this purpose).
Vitamin D has been shown to activate Natural Killer (NK) cells. These little warriors are a non-specific line of defense that attack foreign pathogens, they are not as effective as the specific T-Cells of the immune system but still they are highly essential. Also the phagocytic activity of macrophages is stimulated, this is a complicated way of saying that the bodyâ€™s pathogen eating cells (I like calling them pacman cells) eat faster. In addition, Vitamin D stimulates the production of some of the bodyâ€™s natural antibiotics. The high rate of flu infections in the winter is sometimes explained by the low amount of sunlight and thus Vitamin d people get (though this has not been fully proven)
Anti-Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease
As I poster earlier, high protein diets also have this effect and although these Vitamin D studies are preliminary it has been found that Vitamin D decreases the risk of multiple cancers. A correlation between little sun exposure and cancer has been found as well as a mutation in a Vitamin D receptor leading to elevated risk of breast cancer. How exactly Vitamin D is supposed to do this is still a matter of debate. What is certain is that a little extra sunlight will cause more good than bad. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been shown to correlate with peripheral artery disease (PAD) by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in a study involving over 5,000 participants. Although the links are yet unclear high Vitamin D in the summer months has been shown to correlate with lower cholesterol levels in a study on UK gardeners. Low levels are correlated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.
How to get Vitamin D
There are three main ways: diet, sunlight and supplementation. Through diet fatty fish is a good way to get vitamin d, since vitamin d is fat soluble this is another reason fat is actually good. Although supplementation works fine, I suggest that when appropriate sunlight is available you get it the natural way. As an added bonus you will get a nice tan.
[box type=”info”]Note: Â TheÂ daily recommendations for intake of Vitamin DÂ were recently updated.[/box]