Vitamin D is essential for our bodies. It regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the bones, strengthen the immune system and promotes communication between cells. But are the vitamin D supplements really good for you? Some studies suggest that they are good. But others indicate that they only promote bone and immune system health and only useful to people with vitamin D deficiency. Let’s look at both sides of the argument and then conclude whether or not vitamin D supplementation is good for you.
How Vitamin D Works
Vitamin D is divided into five forms, D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5, with all of them being fat-soluble vitamins. The body needs vitamins D2, and D3 mostly. The sun is the main source of vitamin D, but you don’t have to burn your skin to get vitamin D.
Sun energy changes a chemical found in the skin to vitamin D3 which is then transported to the liver and the kidneys where it’s made into active vitamin D. You can obtain vitamin D from foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified fat spread, although in small amounts.
What’s Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is a lack of sufficient amounts of the vitamin in the body. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends a daily intake of 600 IU vitamin D for people aged 1-70 while those aged above 70 years should take 800 IU daily. Those who are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Individuals aged 65 and above
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Those not exposed to enough sunlight
- People who have darker skin
- Babies and young children under the age of five
One should get enough of vitamin D from a well-balanced diet and exposure to sunlight. But if the body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, it only absorbs 10-15% dietary calcium as opposed to 30-40% sufficient vitamin D levels. This is said to negatively affect the bones and thus speeding their aging. Also, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with brain damage and increased risk of preeclampsia.
What Are the Benefits of Vitamin D Supplementation?
There are two known ways to get enough amount of vitamin D in the body which is exposure to sunlight and vitamin D supplements. However, rarely do we get time to expose ourselves to sunlight. Most people tend to adopt an indoor lifestyle and therefore, supplements are what we use to make up for the vitamin D required by our body. Some of the vitamin D supplementation benefits include:
- Reduced pain and depression for women with type 2 diabetes.
- Prevent cognitive impair in people with Parkinson’s disease.
- Increase muscle strength of offsprings.
Health Benefits Questioned
In regards to the above benefits, some studies have questioned these potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation. A study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology that analyzed 290 observational studies and 172 randomized trials of vitamin D supplements, stated that there was no evidence of these supplements yielding any health benefits. Additionally, the study said that low vitamin D levels are a consequence of ill health, not a cause. Another study conducted at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found that vitamin D supplements are unlikely to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, heart disease or bone fractures. These studies have suggested that if you’re healthy and active, you’re likely to receive enough vitamin D from sunshine thus no need for supplementation. However, more studies are required to determine accurate results since most of the above studies analyzed results that used low amounts of vitamin D.
Negative Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation
Excess consumption of vitamin D supplements or any other vitamin can result in negative health effects. Some of these negative side effects include weight loss, loss of appetite, sore eyes, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle problems. Even worse, extremely high levels of vitamin D can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition caused by having too much calcium in the blood. But the condition can go away if you decrease vitamin D intake and lower your calcium levels. Note that sunlight or vitamin D rich foods are unlikely to cause excess vitamin D in the body, hence the excess vitamin is as a result of taking too many supplements. Sometimes is hard to know how much your body needs because different organizations recommend different intake of vitamin D. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 4,000 IU as the maximum amount that should be taken daily.
Doctors should discuss with their patients to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D. If you’re taking any vitamin D supplements, you should watch out for the above symptoms and notify your doctor immediately. Also, we need to create awareness about vitamin D since we’re not getting enough of vitamin D from our foods as it’s supposed to. There’s a need for more evidence showing if supplements promote additional health benefits.
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