What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is one of the four fat soluble vitamins utilised by the body for various functions. It is found in five forms, D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5. Out of these, vitamin D2 and D3 are the ones which the human body utilises significantly.
Vitamin D2 is ergocalciferol which is synthesized by plants and fungi in response to UV irradiation.
Vitamin D3 is cholecalciferol which is produced by our body in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, using 7-dehydrocholesterol as a precursor.
Sources of vitamin D
1. Food sources include egg yolk, liver, tuna, salmon, cheese and fortified foods like dairy products, juices, soymilk, cereals etc.
3. Dietary Supplements.
How does it work in the body?
Before it can take part in any body functions, all forms of vitamin D need to be converted into an active form. This occurs by way of two reactions that involve addition of –OH group to the compound. The first reaction occurs in liver forming 25-hydroxycholecalciferol. Then, this compound goes to the kidney to be further modified to 1,25 dihydroxycholecalciferol. This is known as the active state or calcitriol.
The most well known function of this vitamin is to maintain high calcium levels in the blood. It does this by three mechanisms:
1. It increases absorption of calcium from GI tract.
2. It stimulates the release of parathyroid hormone (PTH) which acts on the bones to release calcium into the blood. However, in healthy state due to the high levels of blood calcium, the net effect is deposition of calcium from the blood and thus, new bone formation.
3. It stimulates reabsorption of calcium from the kidneys.
It also act as an immune regulator and boosts the immune system, enabling the body to be well equipped in fighting infections and microbes.
Being fat soluble, it acts in many ways, like a steroid hormone. It can penetrate cell membranes to go interact with DNA and regulate our genomes. This effect has recently been shed a lot of light, since research is proving vit D interacts and may alter functions of genes, particularly cancer linked genes, brain function, immune regulation, body weight.
How will vitamin D supplements benefit you?
The major supply of vitamin D is dependent on sunlight, thus its deficiency is quite prevalent in areas where there is lesser exposure to sunlight. This results on weakening of bones, predisposition to fractures, and low blood calcium levels. Supplementing your diet with vitamin D will strengthen your bones, protect from fractures and improve exercise and activity. This is particularly important for women in their pre or post-menopausal years when the bones are in their most vulnerable state, and also for patients with arthritis. Vitamin D also boosts neuromuscular function, makes muscles stronger and helps cut down abdominal fat. It also reduces your appetite by altering levels of lepin( an appetite stimulating substance). These perks are extremely valuable for athletes or anyone trying to lose weight.
Last but not least, vitamin D will enhance your immune system, helping protect you against common infections as well as development of cancers. Thus vitamin D supplementation has short term as well as long term benefits.
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