Vitamin D, commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, is fat-soluble and an essential vitamin to the body. It is naturally present in certain foods. It can also be produced by the body through exposure to the sun’s rays.
The liver and the kidney help transform vitamin D to its active state. Its main role is to help the body to absorb calcium and deposit it into the bones and teeth. Without it, bones would be thin and brittle. It prevents rickets in children. It helps to boost immunity and fight respiratory infections. Vitamin D regulates cell growth and boosts the immune system and insulin production.
Only a few food items contain adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel and fish oils are examples. It is found in small quantities in beef liver, cheese and egg yolk. Fortified milk is another major source. The UV rays of the sun help vitamin D merge in the skin. Hence, a balanced diet with the right foods, fortified milk and moderate exposure to sunlight will provide sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
A deficiency can take place when there is an insufficient dietary intake and no supplement and little or no exposure to the sun.
Insufficient vitamin D leads to a high risk of a Caesarean delivery because of weakened muscles involved in the birth process.
Breast fed infants are a risk as breast milk is not fortified with Vitamin D. In children, rickets take place wherein legs are bowed. In the elderly, deficiency can cause osteomalacia wherein muscles weaken and the bones become brittle.
A deficiency can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, depression and arthritis.
Dark skinned people with higher melanin content in their skin require more time in the sun to absorb adequate amounts of this vitamin.
Malabsorption is another cause for vitamin D deficiency. It means failure on the part of the small intestine to absorb nutrients properly.
In the elderly, deficiency would result in impairment of cognition or comprehension skills like attention, memory etc.
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