Centuries of ongoing research dating back to the early 1800’s has made it possible for modern day scientists to unveil the vital role vitamin D plays in maintaining adequate health and preventing disease. Vitamin D remained an unknown character until the 1920’s, when scientist McCollum produced a publication noting the effectiveness of cod liver oil against Rickets. McCollum singled out a new nutrient and following the designation of vitamins in alphabetic order, he defined the essential nutrient “Vitamin D”.
What is Vitamin D:
Technically, vitamin D is not a vitamin, but a hormone that the liver and kidneys use to work in concert with other nutrients and hormones the body needs to function. The vitamin D hormone is the receptor that aids in the absorption of calcium which in turn regulates the mineralization of teeth, bones and gives support to the immune system.
When the body needs calcium, the parathyroid gland sends the parathyroid hormone to the kidneys to trigger production of the vitamin D hormone. The vitamin D hormone, in turn, prompts the intestines to transfer calcium from food to the blood. If calcium is not properly absorbed through the intestine, both the vitamin D hormone and the parathyroid hormone extricate the stored calcium from the bones. Without vitamin D, only about 10-15 percent of dietary calcium and about 60 percent of phosphorus is absorbed by the body.
Recent research has revealed promising discoveries suggesting vitamin D plays a larger role than maintaining the body’s calcium levels. Vitamin D has been linked to increased immune responses against infections both bacterial and viral. The use of increased levels of vitamin D (4000 IU) has proved beneficial in the treatments of tuberculosis, lung infections, periodontal disease, influenza, psoriasis, MS, Autism, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.
Where Does Our Body Get Vitamin D:
Not only is proper absorption of the vitamin essential in childhood, it is just as crucial in adulthood to stave off osteomalacia and osteoporosis in addition to protecting against both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Bones continue to harden until the age of 13 for girls and 17 for boys. After that bones will either maintain or loose their density.
We attain vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, diet and supplements. Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when exposed to direct sunlight. However, with modern indoor lifestyles in addition to sun safety alerts to cover up and wear sunscreen while outdoors physicians feel we are not getting enough sunlight to produce the amount of vitamin D the body needs. Sensible sun exposure is required to satisfy the body’s vitamin D requirement.
Diet and exercise help contribute to strong bones. As children age, give them a diet laden with fresh fruits and vegetables and fat free dairy products. Vitamin D is also contained in fortified breakfast cereal and orange Juice and can be found in animal proteins such as fish, eggs and milk. Experts agree that children and adults needs 40 minutes of daily exercise to help to build strong bones and prevent problems later.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that all children, newborns to teens, get 400 IU every day. That is the equivalent of drinking four 8-ounce glasses of fortified milk, spending 20 minutes playing in the sun or taking a multi-vitamin. If your Pediatrician suspects a vitamin deficiency it is likely they will have you child tested and start him/her on liquid drops for babies and chewables or capsules for older children.
Bear in mind, moderation is the key. Research has come a long way but there is still so much more to discover. Therefore, be prudent when out in the sun, exercise and eat right.
Sources and Extra Reading:
Science Daily- Not Enough Vitamin D
ABC News: MS Research Highlights Role of Vitamin D