Vitamin D, this micronutrient also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is essential for bone health but may soon be regarded as an important marker of health similar to cholesterol and blood pressure.
Unlike in the past when scientists overlooked the skeletal support vitamin D provides, they are now discovering that it may play an important role in regulating inflammation, glucose, and insulin. It is also a potential warning sign for certain health-related and endocrine diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamins are chemicals the body requires to maintain good health and function at its best. The two primary categories of vitamins are fat soluble and water soluble vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D are not usually needed by everyone and are stored in the liver and fatty tissue. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B and vitamin C, on the other hand, are generally excreted and can be replenished daily with little to no worry about toxicity for most people.
Remember that extremely high amounts of vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins can be bad, but being deficient in one of these vitamins can cause a number of other health issues too. Unlike other micronutrients that are gotten from the foods we eat and produced by the body, vitamin D body is gotten from sunlight.
It is worthy to note that there are two forms of vitamin D– vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 (ergocalcifero) is a synthetic version with a shorter shelf life, while vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the same as the vitamin D produced by an exposure to sunlight.
How to Get Vitamin D
There are three primary ways to get vitamin D–through sun/UVB rays, dietary intake, and vitamin D supplementation.
Sun exposure is still the best way to get vitamin D. I mean, it is called the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason! Ideally, the human body converts the ultraviolet (UVB) rays from sunlight into vitamin D (don’t forget UVB rays can cause sunburn too). Vitamin D is termed “inactive” until sunlight causes a chemical reaction that produces vitamin D. The vitamin is then sent around the body to the tissues.
According to the Vitamin D Council Organization, to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D, everyone needs little bits of sun exposure just shy of causing a skin burn. In fact, vitamin D is mostly produced in the middle of the day. Parts of the body like the chest or back are usually more exposed to the sun– particularly if you live near the equator.
Dietary intake may not be as effective as other sources of vitamin D in providing enough amounts of the vitamin in the body. However, dietary intake can still be helpful. Some of the foods high in vitamin D include dairy, fat (trout or salmon), cod liver oil, tofu, and eggs.
The truth is that vitamin D is not really rich in food sources and may not be the most reliable source for the vitamin. Simply ensure you get enough sun exposure or take vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D Supplementation
It’s more difficult for some people to produce enough vitamin D levels from an exposure to the sun. This includes those who are covered up in the sun, older, overweight, with a dark skin complexion, or live far away from the equator
However, for people who are unable to achieve abundant vitamin D levels from an exposure to the sun alone, vitamin D supplementation may be helpful.
Why is Vitamin D Necessary?
According to researchers, vitamin D facilitates bone health just like calcium and phosphorus. As a matter of fact, the minerals necessary for healthy bones are better absorbed in the presence of vitamin D.
Even with the myriads of benefits of vitamin D, there are potential side effects of a deficiency in vitamin D. People found to be deficient in this micronutrient are likely to suffer a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. They may also be more susceptible to developing metabolism syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Let’s see how vitamin D levels can play a role in the prevention and management of diabetes.
Vitamin D and Diabetes
In almost every cell in the body, there are vitamin D receptors. This means that vitamin D is very essential in most chemical processes including beta cell function and regulation for diabetes.
Beta Cell Function and Insulin
To produce and secrete insulin, the beta cells in the pancreas play a huge role. For instance, in type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are killed off by the body’s immune system while in the case of type 2 diabetes, the beta cells try to over-produce insulin as a result of high insulin resistance caused by a number of factors. These factors may include genetics, a dormant lifestyle, excessive abdominal fat, and many others.
Although Vitamin D still not entirely definitive with regards to stabilizing glucose levels, the micronutrient is found in beta cells and may influence insulin production and secretion. This is because insulin secretion is largely dependent on calcium and calcium absorption is also dependent on vitamin D.
It should also be noted that a deficiency in vitamin D is possibly related to decreased insulin sensitivity.
Vitamin D and Diabetes Complications
The most prevalent complication in people with type 2 diabetes is cardiovascular disease. Luckily, research is getting close to finding significance links between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular diseases.
Even as recent as 2017, research has been not be conclusive on the relationship between vitamin D deficiency, diabetes (mainly type 2 diabetes) and cardiovascular diseases. This is especially as it concerns vitamin D as a possible preventative or management measure for improved glucose homeostasis. Unfortunately, there is a lack of significance in the findings.
Several studies have found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and insulin resistance while others have indicated no substantial relationship. At the Endocrine Society’s recently held annual event, ENDO 2017, vitamin D deficiency was shown to be significantly linked to a higher LDL, or “bad cholesterol”, marking the onset of a cardiovascular disease. This suggests that vitamin D deficiency may lead to certain health complications and cause an increase in cardiovascular diseases in persons with low vitamin D levels.