Vitamin D has been in the news a lot lately. Researchers are looking at whether it plays a role in a multitude of diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis to depression to cancer. Vitamin D has long been known to be important for bone health and is being added to foods like orange juice and to many brands of calcium supplements. Vitamin D has always been looked on as an unusual vitamin because, unlike any other nutrient, our bodies can actually make a substantial amount of vitamin D. Add in the fact that it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, and you can see why there's a lot to know about vitamin D.
We've recently heard from several readers who have had their blood checked for vitamin D and were surprised to learn that they were considered vitamin D deficient. They wrote asking us about vegan sources of vitamin D, the role of sunlight exposure, and what kind of supplements to use. We realized that it's a good time to answer some questions about vitamin D.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
Vitamin D is best known for its role in bone health - it helps our body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is deficient, we absorb very little calcium. That's the main reason that calcium supplements often also contain vitamin D. If calcium is not absorbed due to a vitamin D deficiency, the result is weaker bones that are more likely to fracture.
More recent studies also suggest that older people with lower blood levels of vitamin D are more likely to lose their balance and fall, possibly because of vitamin D's role in promoting muscle function.1 Higher blood levels of vitamin D have been associated with a lower risk of colon and breast cancer in some age groups.2
In addition, lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and depression have also been reported in people with higher blood levels of vitamin D.2,3
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