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When is a Vitamin Not a Vitamin?

by Kathryn Lerro
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When is a Vitamin Not a Vitamin?
When is a vitamin not a vitamin? When it’s actually a hormone. “Vitamin” D is a hormone our bodies produce in response to sunlight, and it is profoundly important for good health. Like all hormones, vitamin D is essentially a messenger chemical that sends information from one body part to another in order to regulate body processes. If the body’s vitamin D levels are insufficient to send these messages properly, illness is inevitable.

Scientists have long known that vitamin D is essential to the formation of strong bones, as it helps the gut absorb calcium—which is why it is added to milk. But recent medical research is proving that more and more serious health problems are the result of inadequate vitamin D—and that the problem is now widespread.  

Studies show that approximately 75% of American teens and adults are vitamin D deficient. Age, weight, skin color, diet, lifestyle choices and certain illnesses are all contributing factors.

Who is at risk?
  • Those who consistently use sunscreen to prevent cancer and premature aging, because they’re blocking the rays the body needs to produce vitamin D. (It’s a wise practice, but one that needs to be compensated for by diet or supplements.) The same is true for people who, for religious reasons, wear clothing that covers them completely.
  • People with dark skin, as the pigments in their skin act as a natural sunscreen.
  • The elderly, because aging bodies produce less vitamin D.
  • People with illnesses like Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis—their digestive tracts are less able to absorb vitamin D from the foods they eat.
  • Overweight people, although they produce vitamin D, they need more of it.
  • People with milk allergies.  
  • Those who adhere to a vegan diet, as most natural dietary sources of vitamin D are animal-based.
  • People who stay indoor during the day.  

What are the symptoms?

As research continues, vitamin D deficiency is being linked to more and more illnesses. Following is a partial list of health problems known to be vitamin D related.

  • Severe asthma in children
  • Depression and schizophrenia—because vitamin D helps regulate chemicals in the brain. (Schizophrenia is twice as common in people with low vitamin D levels.)
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea
  • Anemia
  • Rickets (a disease which causes skeletal deformities due to bone softening)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Dementia (Insufficient vitamin D in the elderly is believed to double the risk of various types of dementia—including Alzheimer’s disease.)
  • Prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction
  • Heart disease 
  • Bone pain and muscle weakness

Research currently in progress indicates that vitamin D may prove to be instrumental in preventing and/or treating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, types 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.

How to know if you are Vitamin D deficient 

A simple blood test can be ordered by your doctor to determine your vitamin D levels. Then he or she can advise you on how best to get your levels where they need to be, with diet, sensible sun exposure or with vitamin D3 supplements. 

Sources: Everydayhealth.com, Kidshealth.org, Medicinenet.com, ScientificAmerican.com, WebMD, and Wikipedia.org.