It’s been a while since I last posted an article so this one is long overdue.
As you may or may not know, I recently moved from New Jersey to Georgia. The biggest change so far for my family is the weather. (Earlier this year the temps in New Jersey were in the negatives and now they are triple digits.) It is definitely hot and humid in Georgia.
All the heat means that when we go outside, we’re exposed to a lot more sun. This is a negative thing when you think about things like dehydration and sunburn, but it is also a big positive when you consider the awesome looking tans and the amount of Vitamin D that our bodies make.
I already knew about some of the best effects from Vitamin D but I was curious about the other benefits, specifically relating to workout performance. So I did the research and in this article I’m going to cover the best benefits of Vitamin D and how to get some if you don’t live in a hot and sunny place.
The Basics: What is Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an important hormone that the body needs. (Yes, it’s actually a hormone and technically not a vitamin.)
It is fat-soluble, which means the body needs fat in order to use and store it properly. It is one of the most important hormones in the body and controls many different functions.
There are actually 5 types of Vitamin D. The most important are Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) and Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol.) Most Vitamin D supplements are either VitaminD3 or Vitamin D2.
One of the main functions of Vitamin D is to help with the absorption of certain minerals, such as calcium. (This is why Vitamin D is important for strong and healthy bones.) Other Vitamin D benefits include helping muscle and brain function and reducing the risk for certain diseases.
I’ll go into more detail about these and other benefits a little later.
It is estimated that 88.1% of people worldwide have an insufficient amount of Vitamin D in their bodies and the best way to get Vitamin D is by being exposing your skin to the UVB radiation from sunlight. When the sun hits your skin, it converts cholesterol into an active form of Vitamin D.
Several factors come into play when determining how much sun is enough for your body to make a healthy amount of Vitamin D. Some of factors include the time of day, the time of year, your geographical location, the amount of clouds in the sky and the shade of your skin color.
The exact amount of sun you should get is debatable because of the variables above, but it is generally recommended to get about 20-30 minutes a day, 3 times per week. Depending on some of the factors mentioned above, 30 minutes in the sun can produce between 8,000-50,000 IUs of Vitamin D within 24 hours of exposure.
The National Institute of Medicine recommends the upper limit of daily Vitamin D intake at 4,000 IUs however the true upper limit of Vitamin D may be closer to 10,000 IUs/day. The optimal levels of Vitamin D in serum are generally accepted to be between of 30-80 ng/ml but 40-60 ng/ml seems like it a better range for most.
Top 6 Vitamin D Benefits
So now you know most Vitamin D comes from our exposure to the sun and most people are lacking the proper amount. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits you body gets from getting Vitamin D. Below are my top 6 as well as a few other that didn’t make the cut.
1. Vitamin D May Increase Athletic Performance
Anything that increases strength and stamina is always intriguing to me and the first thing on my Vitamin D benefits list fits the bill.
There is some evidence that suggests that Vitamin D can increase strength, decrease recovery time and increase testosterone production. These are all great things and can benefit you whether you are a high-end athlete or someone that works out in the gym once in a while.
A 2005 study that was looking at reducing the risk of falling concluded that Vitamin D may help to increase muscular strength and decrease muscular atrophy.
Vitamin D also helped to increase muscle and decrease fat in a study from 2012 that examined obese women. On the flip side, a deficiency in Vitamin D led to smaller muscles in a 2014 study with rats. (Yes, I know it is study in rats and not humans.)
Testosterone levels in men were increased with Vitamin D supplementation in a 2011 study. There were no changes to the testosterone levels of women.
All this evidence, even though it is limited, does suggest that Vitamin D helps your body to perform better. Strength, stamina and more muscle are always good things no matter what your fitness goal is.
2. Vitamin D helps to Increase Bone Density
As I mentioned previously, one of the things that Vitamin D does is to help the body absorb minerals like calcium. Since calcium is responsible for the strength and hardness of bones, it makes sense that Vitamin D helps bones.
A 2009 study meta-analyzed 12 randomly controlled studies and concluded that Vitamin D should reduce fractures in elderly people by 20%. A separate study from 2011 found that Vitamin D may increase bone mineral density.
3. Vitamin D may help Brain Function
Having strong bones and muscles are important but so is your brain. If you couldn’t think, would it really matter how strong you are?
So will Vitamin D make you smarter? Possibly, but I haven’t seen a study that suggest that directly. What I have seen is that Vitamin D slows the decline of brain function and also plays a role in brain development.
A study from 2015 showed that low serum levels of Vitamin D are associated with an accelerated rate of cognitive decline. The researchers in this study were not sure if supplementation would also reduce cognitive decline.
Another study from 2012 also looked at the role that Vitamin D plays in cognitive decline. This one also looked at Vitamin D concentration levels and found that lower levels are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and reduced brain function. A study from 2014 also confirmed a relationship with cognitive decline, dementia and a Vitamin D deficiency.
Brian development may also be impacted by Vitamin D. A 2013 study not only linked low Vitamin D with Alzheimer’s, but also with developmental issues like Autism and Schizophrenia.
4. Vitamin D Could Improve Your Mood
In addition to reducing the chance for degenerative brain conditions, Vitamin D may also be able to help your mood. There seems to be a link between Vitamin D and your mental well being.
This study from 2011 observed an association with low Vitamin d and depression. Researchers concluded that increasing Vitamin D levels could increase a person’s mental well being and improve a risk for depression and other mental disorders.
A meta-analysis from 2014 found the effects of Vitamin D supplementation to be similar to that of anti-depressant medication. This is promising because vitamins are usually more cost effective and produce less side-effects than medication.
This report from 2014 examined the relationship between Vitamin D and bipolar disorder. They observed a correlation with Vitamin d levels and depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D is not the only thing that can keep you from being in a bad mood. Sunlight can help the body to release endorphins, which are hormones that help us feel good.
5. Reduces the risk of Some Cancers
Most people associate too much sun with skin cancer (melanoma)… an yes, too much sun can lead to an increased risk for skin cancer. The thing is that the sun helps your body make Vitamin D and Vitamin D can help protect your body against some forms of cancer, even skin cancer.
In one of his articles Dr. Joseph Mercola wrote that the sun can actually help to protect you against skin cancer. One of the studies he cites is one from 2008 that shows an inverse relationship between intermittent sun exposure and the risk of death from melanoma.
A 2007 study that looked at breast cancer found that moderate sun exposure and Vitamin D supplementation reduced breast cancer rates by 50%. Another study from 2006 examined pancreatic cancer and found that a higher intake of Vitamin D is associated with a lower risk for pancreatic cancer. Another cancer study from 2007 found that Vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
An article from 2006 evaluated 63 cancer studies and found that higher levels of Vitamin D was associated with a lower risk of cancer and a lower mortality from cancer.
6. Vitamin D may reduce the risk of Heart Disease and lower Blood Pressure
Heart Disease is the number one killer in the U.S. Getting enough Vitamin D might help to lower your chances of getting it and dying of it.
A study from 2008 noticed a correlation with low levels of Vitamin D and mortality from cardiovascular disease.
An association with moderate to high doses of Vitamin D supplementation and a reduced risk for heart disease was also observed in a 2010 review.
High blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, may also be improved with Vitamin D.
This analysis from 2007 observed a relationship with higher Vitamin D levels and lower blood pressure. A meta-analysis from 2009 noticed a change in diastolic blood pressure. No significant change was found to systolic blood pressure.
Other benefits of Vitamin D
Those are the potential Vitamin D benefits that I found most interesting but there are many others that didn’t make the top 6 list. That is not to say that they are not important though.
Insulin resistance is an issue that can lead to type 2 diabetes. In a study conducted on women with type 2 diabetes, insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity was improved with higher levels of serum Vitamin D.
Vitamin D also seems to play a role with the rates of Type 1 diabetes. Higher Vitamin D and UVB levels were associated with a lower incidence of Type 1 diabetes.
The risk of developing multiple sclerosis also seems to be reduced when supplementing with Vitamin D.
Vitamin D can also help to improve your immune system. The T-Cells in our bodies that fight infections may not be able to work properly without Vitamin D. Individuals that have autoimmune disease may benefit even greater with Vitamin D supplementation.
Supplementing with Vitamin D also helped to reduce the incidence of the flu in children.
Ways to Get Vitamin D
The best way to get Vitamin D is from the sun. Your body can naturally synthesize Vitamin D and this seems like the way that nature intended us to get Vitamin D.
There is a balance with this though because too much sun can increase the risk of skin cancer. If you are getting sun burned then you are getting too much sun.
The sun can also be an issue depending on where you live, especially during the winter months. If you live in a cold place you’re probably getting a lot less sun than someone that lives closer to the equator.
So if getting enough sun is an problem, the two alternate methods of fulfilling your body’s need for Vitamin D come from food and supplementation.
Foods can provide a limited amount of Vitamin D. There are not a lot of foods that are rich Vitamin D sources, but fatty fish, eggs yolks, liver and cheese are all have a moderate amount. There are also some foods like cereal, milk and OJ that are sometimes fortified with Vitamin D.
I would consider Cod Liver Oil to be somewhere between a food and a supplement. It is a good source as one tablespoon can provide about 1300 IUs of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements are great if you can’t get enough sun. When supplementing with Vitamin D, the two main choices are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. D2 is produces in plants and D3 is produced in animals.
D3 is the more active form of Vitamin D and is the type that our bodies produce from the sun. It is more effective than D2 in decreasing mortality rates and is more potent so D3 is my personal choice and is what I use (or used because it is so sunny where I live now.)
Vitamin D is one of the most important substances in the body and is something you definitely don’t want to be deficient in.
The best way to know if you are getting enough Vitamin D is to have your blood levels checked. Grassrootshealth.com made this chart the shows the incidence of disease relationship to serum levels of Vitamin D. Their chart shows a serum level of 40-60 ng/ml will reduce the risk of most diseases.