Lately it seems as though every other article in newspapers and magazines describes a new benefit for vitamin D. Could any substance in your body really be so critical? What is the truth and what is a myth?
In this article I will introduce you to the many roles that vitamin D is believed to play. It is important to remember that with the exception of the important action of maintaining the calcium level in the blood and the integrity of bone, the exact role of vitamin D in all the other functions I write about here is not fully understood. And if a given function is true, just how much vitamin in the blood is optimal to accomplish that function is not established. However, the evidence is growing and scientists are expanding the role of vitamin D as I write this.
What are the major new functions for vitamin D?
Here is a partial list:
- Vitamin D is essential to build bone. It increases the absorption of calcium from food and the calcium is then used to form the hard mineral that makes up bone.
- Vitamin D strengthens the part of the immune system that protects the body against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. It blocks the part of the immune system that causes the body to react against its own tissues, so-called autoimmunity. Therefore, it helps to prevent diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type 1 diabetes.
- Vitamin D helps to prevent certain cancers, the most well-established being colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Other cancers for which the evidence of benefit from vitamin D is not as strong are lung cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer. In addition, various forms of active vitamin D are being used to treat several of these cancers. Active vitamin D is the form that vitamin D takes after it has been processed by the liver and kidneys.
- Vitamin D may protect you against heart attacks and heart failure.
- Vitamin D may help to prevent type 2 diabetes, the type of diabetes that results from weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle.
Some of the other functions for which vitamin D has a positive role in your body but for which the evidence is less compelling include the following:
- Protection against asthma
- Treating psoriasis, a skin disease
- Preventing autism
- Slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease
- Avoiding Parkinson’s disease
- Reducing depression
- Managing your weight
So is vitamin D essential? You bet it is.