A Rare Vitamin Obtained by Sunlight on the Skin
While most of vitamins are obtained from foods we eat, the vitamin D is the only vitamin that's not available
from foods. Instead, vitamin D is actually obtained by sunlight on the skin. These days there's a lot of media
coverage about the dangers of getting too much sun. While those warnings are warranted up to a point, what's being
overlooked is that it is essential that the skin is exposed to sunlight to obtain the recommended daily allowance
of the D vitamin. In reality, the amount of time that a person has to spend in the sun to receive a sufficient dose
of the D vitamin is extremely small and just a few minutes a day will be sufficient and not have any adverse
effects from the amount of ultra-violet light received.
Vitamin D Controls Calcium Absorption
The most important function of the D vitamin is to help control how much calcium is absorbed from food. The
majority of the calcium is used to build strong teeth and bones but it is also needed to send messages along the
nerves and to help muscles, such as the heart muscles, to contract. It is the D vitamin that ensures that there is
always sufficient calcium in the blood to perform these tasks. Other functions that require the D vitamin relate to
the immune system and it is believed that it is also a contributing factor in reducing the risk of contracting
cancer and, in particular, colon cancer.
The variant of the D vitamin that is formed under the skin is known as vitamin
D3, or cholecalciferol. This D vitamin is created when the ultraviolet in the sunlight reacts with a type of
cholesterol that is found under the skin naturally. The D3 is converted into a more active form of the d vitamin in
the liver and is then diverted to where it is needed the most. Some of the D vitamin remains in the liver and
kidneys to help reabsorb the calcium from the blood. The rest of the D vitamin is dispersed to the bones to help
them retain their calcium and the intestines to aid absorption of calcium from food.
Even though the majority of the D vitamin is formed through the exposure of the skin to sunlight there are some
foods that do contain some of the vitamin naturally. This form of the D vitamin is known as vitamin D2, or
ergocalciferol. This is used in the same way as the other D vitamins and is the type used to create the majority of
D vitamin supplements.
There are also two more recognized forms of the D vitamin: vitamin D4 and vitamin D5.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle weakness and bone fragility. There are two bone softening diseases caused
by vitamin D deficiency (in amongst other things):
1. Rickets - usually a childhood disease that impedes growth and causes deformity of the long bones.
2. Osteomalacia - an adult disease that causes muscle weakness and bone fragility.
Vitamin D Benefits
While it's mostly known by its ability to assist healthy bones, vitamin D offers other health benefits:
- helps immune system
- reduces incidence of influenza
- has potential to prevent cancer
- reduces the risk of high blood pressure and artery disease
- slows aging and reduces overall mortality
- reduces inflammation
Vitamin D Sources
Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when exposed to direct sunlight. In many countries however foods
such as milk, yoghurt, margarine, oil spreads, and breakfast cerelas are fortified with the D vitamin. Natural food
sources that contain vitamin D are: a whole egg, beef liver, cod liver oil, and mushrooms. Vitamin D can also be
found in many fish species, such as: catfish, eel, mackerel, salmon, and tuna.