The benefits of vitamin D have been known for a long time, but are you getting enough of this nutrient in your daily diet for optimal health and well-being? Whether you opt for a daily dose of sunshine, a supplement or fortified foods, getting enough vitamin D is essential to keep your bones strong and your immune system in full swing.
Vitamin D is a nutrient with abundant benefits for our physical and mental health. However, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D outside of fortified foods and beverages such as milk, breakfast cereals, yogurts and orange juice. The best dietary sources of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and fish liver oils, while eggs, cheese, and mushrooms contain small amounts.
Our body also makes vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun. But as we all know, wearing sunscreen and staying in the shade are important to reduce our risk of skin cancer. Older people and people with dark skin have a hard time making enough vitamin D in the sun. So how can we make sure we’re getting enough of this vital nutrient?
One of the easiest ways to get enough vitamin D in our daily diet is to use the best vitamin D supplements, available in capsules, sprays and chews. Be sure to check what vitamin D levels the National Institutes of Health (opens in a new tab) recommend, depending on your age.
What are the benefits of vitamin D?
According to Rahaf Al Bochi, Registered Nutritionist and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (opens in a new tab), vitamin D has several benefits. “Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and phosphorus, which is important for healthy bones and teeth,” she says. “Vitamin D also plays a role in preventing diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, reducing the risk of depression.”
Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LDN
Al Bochi is a Registered Nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She practices through an intuitive food approach and specializes in the Mediterranean food model. Al Bochi is a member of the Academy’s Nutrition Entrepreneurs dietary practice group and a graduate of Ryerson University.
We’ve delved into some of these key benefits, as well as others, to find out what this important nutrient can do for our physical and mental well-being.
1. It supports the immune system
Vitamin D is already known to help our immune system resist invading bacteria and viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (opens in a new tab) (CDC). But the recent Covid-19 pandemic has shown how powerful vitamin D can be in supporting our immune system against more serious illnesses.
A review published in 2022 (opens in a new tab) on the role that vitamin D plays in the fight against Covid-19 revealed that low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of infection and can also increase its severity. The researchers concluded that vitamin D supplementation could protect people against respiratory diseases and prevent them from progressing in severity, thereby reducing the risk of death.
2. It builds strong bones and teeth
Vitamin D is essential for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones and teeth. It does this by promoting the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestine, which helps the bones to mineralize, increasing their strength and hardness.
Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to tooth loss and leave bones brittle and weak. It can even cause rickets in children and osteoporosis in the elderly. With over 53 million adults (opens in a new tab) in the United States at risk of developing osteoporosis, vitamin D could be a powerful tool for improving bone health.
3. It supports a healthy heart
Vitamin D helps regulate heart function and lower blood pressure, while vitamin D deficiency is associated with heart problems, stiffening of the arteries and high blood pressure.
Although there is not enough evidence to support the idea that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), many health experts claim that it lowers blood cholesterol levels. . (opens in a new tab) and high blood pressure (opens in a new tab)both of which can contribute to CVD.
4. May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Vitamin D can help the body improve its sensitivity to insulin, which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This may reduce the risk of insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Numerous studies, including one published in the Biochemical Journal (opens in a new tab)also linked vitamin D deficiency to the development of type 2 diabetes.
5. May inhibit the spread of cancer
According to the NIH (opens in a new tab), vitamin D can inhibit or slow the progression of certain cancerous tumours. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory effect or because it can prevent the tumor from growing blood vessels.
A 2019 meta-analysis of trials on vitamin D supplementation and cancer incidence and mortality published in Annals of Oncology (opens in a new tab) found that although vitamin D did not reduce cancer incidents, it significantly reduced cancer deaths by up to 13% (opens in a new tab).
However, one study reported an association between higher vitamin A intake and invasive breast cancer, with subjects experiencing a 28% increase (opens in a new tab) at risk.
People with cancer should always consult their oncologist before opting for vitamin A supplementation.
6. May Reduce Risk of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Numerous studies over the years, including one published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders (opens in a new tab), have shown that people who get more exposure to sunlight and vitamin D from their diet have a reduced risk of developing MS, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Like the NIH (opens in a new tab) notes, people who live in warmer, sunnier countries rarely develop this condition compared to those who live in cooler, cloudier countries.
Some experts suggest that vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of developing the disease or improve symptoms associated with MS, such as a 2021 article published in Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine (opens in a new tab) argue. However, we need more evidence to be sure of the benefits.
7. May reduce the risk of depression
A growing body of evidence is emerging that vitamin D can be an essential tool in supporting mental well-being. In 2020, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Depression and Anxiety (opens in a new tab) compared the effect of a vitamin D supplement and a placebo on thousands of participants suffering from “negative emotions”. Researchers found that vitamin D supplementation improved mood in patients with major depressive disorder.
However, a 2021 review in the Journal of Clinical Medicine (opens in a new tab) who examined vitamin D use in healthy adults did not find consistent evidence to support the use of vitamin D in the fight against other mental health problems. The researchers also noted that some studies recommended physical activity in addition to supplementation or recommended dietary sources of vitamin D instead.
So while we can cautiously say that vitamin D may have a mood-boosting effect, particularly in people with depression, we need more research on how it does this and how it should be combined with other methods of mental health support.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice.