Vitamin D stands out among the most critical and most researched nutrients. The list below only scratches the surface of known and suspected benefits that we gain from maintaining adequate vitamin D. It is actually more of a hormone than a vitamin in its mechanisms of action and is produced by humans from cholesterol metabolism.
While nearly all recognize the benefits of vitamin D, debate rages over the desired level in blood. Conventional medicine says that 30 is enough while functional medicine holds that optimal levels should be anywhere from 50-100.
The list of benefits includes asthma prevention, immune promotion, bone health, heart health, brain function and mood enhancement, fall prevention, sports performance/injury prevention, cancer prevention, thyroid health, and even therapy for polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Asthma: Several angles of research have highlighted the benefits of vitamin D for asthma as well as other lung conditions. Adequate vitamin D for pregnant moms may decrease the rate of asthma in their children. Adequate vitamin D appears to lower the risk of asthma exacerbations. Likely these benefits are mediated through the lowering of inflammation and through immune system modulation.
Immune: Vitamin D’s role in immunity has been widely studied. Vitamin D has benefits in terms of preventing and lessening the effects of viral illnesses like colds. It also modulates autoimmune diseases and is utilized in many of their therapies. Adequate amounts may lower the risk of their development.
Bone health: One of the earlier recognized benefits of vitamin D is its effects on strengthening bone and preventing rickets or osteomalacia.
Heart health: While many recent headlines have maligned vitamin D saying it contributes to atherosclerosis, numerous studies support its benefits if dosed appropriately. Deficiency seems to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Replacement appears to lower blood pressure.
Brain Health and Mood: With the discovery that inflammation is linked to numerous degenerative diseases of the brain (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis), vitamin D’s role in the inflammatory response pathway has brought its importance into the limelight. Inadequate vitamin D seems to increase the risk of inflammatory diseases. Neuropsychiatric disorders including depression are also increased with low vitamin D.
Fall Risk: Studies indicate that adequate Vitamin D likely lowers fall risk in elderly by 20%.
Sports performance and injury prevention: Athletes are encourage to maintain adequate vitamin D levels both to enhance performance and prevent injuries like stress fractures.
Cancer prevention: Without listing all the cancer types, a great deal of research is going into if and how vitamin D prevents and possibly treats cancer.
Thyroid health: Vitamin D benefits both those with Graves (hyperthyroid) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (hypothyroid).
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: The hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance of PCOS/metabolic syndrome seems to improve with adequate vitamin D.
How to Get the Benefits of Vitamin D:
The primary effective form of vitamin D that we want for supplementation is D3. It is far more effective than D2.
Special Notes: Like most of our metabolism and nutrients, one can get too much of a good thing. Excess vitamin D may lead to high calcium and even calcium deposition in arteries. Much of the debate over this nutrient lies in where to draw the line on what is too much.
The other debate in the alternative world lies in what are the best sources of the calcium that works with the Vitamin D. Fortified sources like milk, yogurt, cereal, and orange juice stir up strong opinions. Less controversial sources include, fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks, and some mushrooms.
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007 Nov;120(5):1031-5. Epub 2007 Oct 24. Is vitamin D deficiency to blame for the asthma epidemic? Litonjua AA, Weiss ST.
Brehm, John M et al. “Serum vitamin D levels and markers of severity of childhood asthma in Costa Rica” American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine vol. 179,9 (2009): 765-71.
Camargo, Carlos A et al. “Maternal intake of vitamin D during pregnancy and risk of recurrent wheeze in children at 3 y of age” American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 85,3 (2007): 788-95.
Xystrakis, Emmanuel et al. “Reversing the defective induction of IL-10-secreting regulatory T cells in glucocorticoid-resistant asthma patients” Journal of clinical investigation vol. 116,1 (2005): 146-55.
Adams, John S and Martin Hewison. “Unexpected actions of vitamin D: new perspectives on the regulation of innate and adaptive immunity” Nature clinical practice. Endocrinology & metabolism vol. 4,2 (2008): 80-90.
Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2008 Aug;4(8):404-12. doi: 10.1038/ncprheum0855. Epub 2008 Jul 1. Control of autoimmune diseases by the vitamin D endocrine system. Adorini L, Penna G.
Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2004 Nov;113(11):891-901. Effect of daily cod liver oil and a multivitamin-mineral supplement with selenium on upper respiratory tract pediatric visits by young, inner-city, Latino children: randomized pediatric sites. Linday LA1, Shindledecker RD, Tapia-Mendoza J, Dolitsky JN.
J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2013 Jul;136:190-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2012.08.008.Epub 2012 Sep 5. The pleiotropic effects of vitamin D in bone. Anderson PH, Lam NN, Turner AG, Davey RA, Kogawa M, Atkins GJ, Morris HA.
Kato, Hiroshi et al. “Promoting effect of 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D3 in osteogenic differentiation from induced pluripotent stem cells to osteocyte-like cells” Open biology vol. 5,2 (2015): 140201.
Wang, Thomas J et al. “Vitamin D deficiency and risk of cardiovascular disease” Circulation vol. 117,4 (2008): 503-11.
Weng, Sherry et al. “Vitamin D deficiency induces high blood pressure and accelerates atherosclerosis in mice” PloS one vol. 8,1 (2013): e54625.
Effects of a Short-Term Vitamin D3 and Calcium Supplementation on Blood Pressure and Parathyroid Hormone Levels in Elderly Women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Michael Pfeifer, Bettina Begerow, Helmut W. Minne, Detlef Nachtigall, and Corinna Hansen
Brain Health and Mood:
Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec;34 Suppl 1:S247-57. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.015. Developmental vitamin D deficiency causes abnormal brain development. Eyles DW1, Feron F, Cui X, Kesby JP, Harms LH, Ko P, McGrath JJ, Burne TH.
Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Aug;22(6):629-36. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2011.05.004. Epub 2011 Jun 6. Vitamin D in fetal brain development. Eyles D1, Burne T, McGrath J.
Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 1994 Jul;24(1-4):70-6. 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 regulates the synthesis of nerve growth factor in primary cultures of glial cells. Neveu I1, Naveilhan P, Jehan F, Baudet C, Wion D, De Luca HF, Brachet P.
Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;14(12):1032-40. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. ilkins CH1, Sheline YI, Roe CM, Birge SJ, Morris JC.
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 May;65(5):508-12. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.65.5.508. Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults. Hoogendijk WJ, Lips P, Dik MG, Deeg DJ, Beekman AT, Penninx BW.
Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dawson-Hughes B, Willett WC, et al. Effect of vitamin D on falls: a meta-analysis. 2004. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK70700/
Sports performance and Stress Fractures:
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):1102-10. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181930c2b. Athletic performance and vitamin D. Cannell JJ, Hollis BW, Sorenson MB, Taft TN, Anderson JJ.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb;43(2):335-43. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181eb9d4d. Vitamin D status relative to diet, lifestyle, injury, and illness in college athletes. Halliday TM, Peterson NJ, Thomas JJ, Kleppinger K, Hollis BW, Larson-Meyer DE.
J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 1996 Apr;1(1):97-101. Vitamin D3 is a potent inhibitor of tumor cell-induced angiogenesis. Majewski S, Skopinska M, Marczak M, Szmurlo A, Bollag W, Jablonska S.
1α,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 Inhibits Angiogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo. D. J. Mantell, P. E. Owens, N. J. Bundred, E. B. Mawer, and A. E. Canfield. Originally published4 Aug 2000 Circulation Research. 2000;87:214–220
Pálmer, H G et al. “Vitamin D(3) promotes the differentiation of colon carcinoma cells by the induction of E-cadherin and the inhibition of beta-catenin signaling” Journal of cell biology vol. 154,2 (2001): 369-87.
Thyroid. 2011 Aug;21(8):891-6. doi: 10.1089/thy.2009.0200. Epub 2011 Jul 13. Relative vitamin D insufficiency in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Tamer G1, Arik S, Tamer I, Coksert D.
Vitamin D supplementation decreases TGF beta-1 bioavailability correlating with clinical improvement in Vitamin D deficient women with PCOS: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. M. Irani, D.B. Seifer, R. Grazi, D. Bhatt, N. Julka, B. Kalgi, S. Irani, O. Tal, R. Tal
Acta Physiol Hung. 2012 Sep;99(3):279-88. doi: 10.1556/APhysiol.99.2012.3.5.
Arteriolar biomechanics in a rat polycystic ovary syndrome model – effects of parallel vitamin D3 treatment. Sára L1, Nádasy G, Antal P, Szekeres M, Monori-Kiss A, Horváth EM, Tőkés AM, Masszi G, Monos E, Várbíró S.
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