Vitamin D explained: Why it's so important

There's a veritable alphabet soup of vitamins in the market, and it's likely very few of us know precisely what they do -- with the exception of vitamin C, which most of us rush to take whenever we feel a cold coming on. But even then, its effectiveness as a cold-stopping agent is a matter of dispute among medical professionals and those we rely on to tell us what's best for our bodies. Lately, those same folks have been proclaiming the virtues of vitamin D. The obvious question now is: What does vitamin D do and what are the various vitamin D benefits as we get older?

One of the biggest vitamin D benefits to those of us who'd like to stick around for a long time and still stay strong and healthy in the process is its beneficial impact on bone health. Vitamin D accomplishes this task by helping our bodies absorb calcium and phosphate, which in turn keeps the body's bones strong and makes them far less susceptible to breakage.

Additional vitamin D benefits

As if that weren't enough to sell you on its benefits, recent studies say vitamin D may also be beneficial for a number of other important health functions, including:

  • Immune functions
  • Brain functions
  • Nerve center functions
  • Muscular functions

Vitamin D consumption methods

So how do you get vitamin D into your system? There are actually three uniquely different methods of accomplishing that end.

Eating certain foods, like fatty fish, meat, eggs and mushrooms. Wouldn't you know it? Some of the foods that we're told to stay away from actually contain something our bodies need. This is probably the best evidence that proves that moderation is the best method of achieving longevity.

Exposure to sunshine. This is one area you'll have to tread lightly on. The older we get, the more susceptible we become to the effects of the sun. If you don't want to have a knock-down, drag-out brawl with your dermatologist, it's best to discuss this with them at length before stripping to your skivvies and taking an hour-long sunbath -- even though that length of time may not necessary to get your vitamin D fill. Doctors say that 15 to 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight per day should do the trick.

Taking vitamin D supplements. The trouble with opting for this approach is that it's possible to overdose on vitamin D. Therefore, before taking any supplements, consult your doctor to the right dosage for you.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency

Even if you do get enough sunshine and eat all the right things, it may be entirely possible that you can a vitamin D deficiency. If you're suffering from any of the following symptoms, you might be experiencing a deficiency:

  • Bodily aches and pains that range from mild to severe
  • Pain that's felt in your hips, ribs, feet and thighs
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Osteomalacia, which is a softening of the bones

Who's at risk?

Some people bring about vitamin D deficiencies simply by their actions or habits. Ultimately, you may not need to take vitamin D supplements if you make some changes in your life. The three factors that can lead to lack of vitamin D in your body are: staying out of the sun too often, not eating any dairy products, or eating a strict vegetarian diet. Whether or not this sounds like you, it's important to see your doctor before treating yourself to determine the best course of action.

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