Vitamin D Benefits - Why Is Vitamin D Important?

Back in the early twentieth centuries, nutrition researchers found that vitamin D benefits had astonishing effects in treating a childhood bone disease called rickets. A vitamin deficiency disease causing rounded, slumped shoulders and wobbly knees, as well as perennial diarrhea, rashes, and nasal infections, rickets was a plague to the poorest and least fortunate children of the time.

When children were sent to work in factories as young as four years old and lived in cities where the skies were filled with smoke and soot, their young bodies could not make the vitamin D needed for healthy bones. Giving these children just 1/20,000 of an gram (200 IU) of vitamin D every day, however, corrected rickets in its early stages or kept rickets from ever happening at all.

Since about 1930, the mainstream of nutritional scientists have recommended only enough vitamin D to prevent rickets, 200 IU a day for children and 400 IU a day for adults over 50. But nearly every adult can benefit from taking 1,000 to 5,000 IU a day on a regular basis. Here are the reasons why.

Vitamin D for Fighting Colds and Flu

Scientists in Finland, a nation where nearly everybody battles colds and flu for the entire six months of winter, have found that taking just 400 IU of vitamin D a day is enough to cause a significant reduction in the number of colds per year.

Vitamin D for Psoriasis and Eczema

Psoriasis is a condition of dry, itchy, scaly, skin that overreacts to signals from the immune system. Eczema is also tied to an abnormality of the immune system. When there is enough vitamin D in the body, however, the skin cells known as keratinocytes don't have to make more skin cells to make more vitamin D in the skin, and a "quieter" skin shows fewer symptoms of either psoriasis or eczema/atopic dermatitis.

Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention

When Australian health experts started advising their fellow citizens to start using sunblock to prevent skin cancer, a totally unexpected outcome occurred—more skin cancer. It turns out that the body needs a minimum amount of vitamin D to respond to the efforts of the immune system to keep skin cancers, particularly melanomas, in check.

Low vitamin D levels have been found to be connected to every kind of cancer. If you don't have cancer, taking vitamin D may help prevent it. If you already have cancer, however, you should not take vitamin D without checking with your doctor to make sure your bloodstream calcium levels are normal, since the combination of calcium released from cancer in bone and the calcium transported by vitamin D can be excessive.

Vitamin D and Pregnancy

Every women who is pregnant can benefit from taking vitamin D, but vitamin D alone is not enough. Taking up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily plus two 400-mg calcium pills (at least six hours apart, to ensure absorption) and 400 to 800 mg of magnesium will help prevent the dangerous condition of high blood pressure known as preeclampsia, which can threaten both mother and unborn child.

Other Vitamin D Benefits for Women

And, of course, vitamin D is also of tremendous benefit to women who are past childbearing age. Post-menopausal women are subject to osteoporosis, the chronic breakdown of bone without new bone formation. Women who are past menopause and men who are past the age of 75 need vitamin D with calcium to prevent bone loss.

A daily dosage of at least 1,000 IU per day with at least 1,000 mg per day of calcium carbonate (always taken with food) or calcium citrate (which does not have to be taken with food) may prevent years of disability caused by fractures and broken bones.

For bone health, men and women alike also need magnesium, up to 800 mg a day, and vitamin K, from eating several servings of lettuce or other leafy greens three or more times a week.

Selected References:

Kim SK, Park S, Lee ES. Toll-like receptors and antimicrobial peptides expressions of psoriasis: correlation with serum vitamin D level. J Korean Med Sci. 2010 Oct;25(10):1506-12. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

Schwartz GG, Eads D, Rao A, Cramer SD, Willingham MC, Chen TC, Jamieson DP, Wang L, Burnstein KL, Holick MF, Koumenis C. Pancreatic cancer cells express 25-hydroxyvitamin D-1 alpha-hydroxylase and their proliferation is inhibited by the prohormone 25-hydroxyvitamin D.Carcinogenesis. 2004 Jun;25(6):1015–26. Epub 2004 Jan 23.

Wactawski-Wende J, Kotchen JM, Anderson GL, Assaf AR, Brunner RL, O'Sullivan MJ, Margolis KL, Ockene JK, Phillips L, Pottern L, Prentice RL, Robbins J, Rohan TE, Sarto GE, Sharma S, Stefanick ML, Van Horn L, Wallace RB, Whitlock E, Bassford T, Beresford SA, Black HR, Bonds DE, Brzyski RG, Caan B, Chlebowski RT, Cochrane B, Garland C, Gass M, Hays J, Heiss G, Hendrix SL, Howard BV, Hsia J, Hubbell FA, Jackson RD, Johnson KC, Judd H, Kooperberg CL, Kuller LH, LaCroix AZ, Lane DS, Langer RD, Lasser NL, Lewis CE, Limacher MC, Manson JE., https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa055222Women's Health Initiative Investigators Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and the risk of colorectal cancer. N Engl J Med. 2006 Feb 16;354(7):684–96.

Wilkins C, Sheline Y, Roe C, Birge S, Morris J. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry.2006;14:1032–1040. doi: 10.1097/01.JGP.0000240986.74642.7c.

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