Commonly dubbed the “sunshine vitamin” for its ability to be generated in the skin of mammals when exposed to the appropriate wavelengths of ultraviolet light, vitamin D is a crucial part of a healthy human body; luckily, you don’t have to work very hard to get enough of it.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D actually refers to a robust group of fat-soluble secosteroids, none of which are vitamins in the classic sense of the term, since they aren’t an essential dietary vitamin like their siblings, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin E. No matter what we call it, however, these secosteroids have an important role to play in the bodies of many animals, humans included.
There are five variations of vitamin D that we’ll need to acquaint ourselves with. They are:
- Vitamin D1: a molecular compound consisting of ergocalciferol and lumisterol.
- Vitamin D2: a molecule consisting of pure ergocalciferol.
- Vitamin D3: a molecule consisting of cholecalciferol, made in the skin with its base compound, 7-dehydrocholesterol reacts with ultraviolet light.
- Vitamin D4: a molecular compound consisting of 22-dihydroergocalciferol.
- Vitamin D5: a molecule consisting of sitocalciferol, made from7-dehydrositosterol.
How Vitamin D Benefits Health
As you may have guessed from the names of the root compounds found in its variants, vitamin D has a big role to play with the regulation of calcium in the mammalian body, ours included!
Once generated by the skin on exposure to sunlight, vitamin D travels to the liver to be converted into a compound called calcidiol. Once that conversion is complete, some of that calcidiol makes its way to the kidneys in order to undergo another transformation, this time into calcitriol. This finalized substance then makes its way into the bloodstream, circulating as a hormone that helps to regulate the concentration of calcium and phosphate in the body in order to promote healthy growth of bones, during both childhood and following breaks and fractures throughout life.
What Happens if I Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D?
If you don’t get enough sun and simultaneously eat a diet sparse in dietary sources of vitamin D, you put yourself at risk of a deficiency in this very important compound, potentially leading to a wide array of problems.
The vitamin D group of secosteroids was actually discovered by scientists looking into the cause of rickets, the childhood disease that we now know is most prominently found in those with dangerously low levels of vitamin D3, presenting as the softening of bones due to calcium not being utilized properly by the body, and potentially ending in major bone deformation; osteomalacia is the name given to the adult variant of the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency.
Other conditions that have been associated with unhealthily low levels of vitamin D in scientific studies include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, severe asthma symptoms in children, and even some forms of cancer.
How to Get All the Vitamin D3 You Need
If you’re wondering how to increase your levels of vitamin D, the answer is simple: get some sun! Scientifically speaking, we humans requires 10 to 15 minutes of direct sun exposure on the, skin twice each week if we want to ensure that we’re producing healthy levels of vitamin D.
The one caveat is that the UV index must be 3 or higher on the classical scale in order for the body to produce the vitamin efficiently. A quick look at a detailed weather report will typically include the UV index rating, making it a fairly simple thing to plan your outdoor activity schedule ahead of time if vitamin D levels are a concern for you.
For those in a climate where healthy vitamin D production isn’t possible due to reduced UV ratings, such as regions near the poles, supplements are available; doctors generally suggest an intake of about 1000 IU (international units) per day.