Winter is a time when many people do not get enough sunlight exposure. They bundle up or they stay indoors to avoid the cold. In doing so they miss the opportunity to allow their own bodies to produce even a modest amount of vitamin D due to inadequate ultraviolet light exposure on the skin.
So what does vitamin D do for your body? Many know it helps improve bone density by assisting absorption of calcium into your blood circulation in order for this mineral to reach the bone matrix. Over the past few years more people including doctors have come to know vitamin D’s importance to the strength of the immune system. But how essential vitamin D is to overall health and proper function of your entire set of body systems is just beginning to unfold. It’s a fascinating story that’s over a hundred years old. We want to shed light upon the complex interwoven network of benefits of vitamin D without which core body functions are in peril.
Vitamin D exerts regulatory effects on your body cells like other hormones such as estrogen or adrenaline. While most hormones have fairly specific influences on your body functioning, vitamin D has a far greater spectrum of effects. The human body has evolved over a million years and along the way vitamin D was a crucial part of that evolution. The body developed a way to produce this necessary biochemical as a key component to survival.
In this sense, D is more a hormone than vitamin. Vitamins in general are necessary for your body to thrive also. However they are not produced by your body for the most part the way hormones are and must therefore be obtained from the food you eat.
Research scientists know over 2500 places where vitamin D “receptor sites” exist along the chromosomes (which are sets of genes joined together like links of a chain) contained within the nucleus of all your cells. At these sites, vitamin D molecules can attach to regulate the function of particular genes. Thus vitamin D exerts its broad-sweeping hormone actions.
Many of these genes located next to vitamin D receptors are linked to many major human diseases. It is through your genes or genetic composition that all your life functions are ultimately able to happen. This includes how healthy you are over the course of your lifespan. And poor genetic functions or malfunctions caused by improper regulation can lead to onset of many diseases and bad health.
Insufficient vitamin D level has close links to many malfunctions of the body. Formal research studies have revealed some of those links. But a lot has been learned from epidemiology observations. Doctors, nutritionists and public health field workers piece together bits of evidence from what they see happening around them over long periods of time. However this detective-style of “research” does not qualify as “real” research by the standards of the government and the scientific community. This is most unfortunate.
Case in point: Influenza susceptibility and vitamin D deficiency has long been suspected for about 100 years. However no real “scientific studies” were done — only observation — and thus no “solid proof” existed. The further from the equator one lived the more likely one would die from influenza. People of color (more melanin produced in the skin cells) were more likely to contract influenza and have more severe secondary complications. Epidemics happened during the wintertime here in the northern hemisphere and subsided during summertime. Children with rickets (softening of all bones throughout the body from vitamin D deficiency) got flu more frequently. People in the north who ate more cold water fish and fish liver oil got flu less often. The common denominator in all these situations is low vitamin D levels. But over the previous 100+ years these observations were explained away by “authorities” who blamed crowded conditions as the reason flu epidemics occurred in urban areas. Or a child with rickets had a compressed rib cage which compromised pulmonary function making that child prone to contracting flu instead trying to understand the rib bones were soft from insufficient vitamin D.
It’s good to see that blood tests are routinely measuring vitamin D levels. This is a start but you shouldn’t wait for your next blood analysis. Do your part to stay healthy this flu season. Get some sunshine everyday and supplement with some vitamin D.
Part 2 to follow.