Take your vitamin D!

Vitamin D has long been known to be
essential to bone and muscle health by aiding calcium absorption in the
intestines and the production of enzymes involved in collagen formation in the

This important nutrient also
promotes normal cell growth and helps maintain hormonal balance as well as
supporting the immune system.

Recent research has found receptors
for vitamin D in almost every organ and tissue system in the body, suggesting
that deficiencies may affect many types of cell functions. Now one study has
just been completed while another is under way in linking vitamin D to
autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer.

According to an Oxford University
news release today, researchers from Canada and the UK mapped sites of vitamin
D receptor binding—information that can be used to identify disease-related
genes that might be influenced by vitamin D. They found that vitamin D receptor
binding is significantly enhanced in regions of the human genome associated
with common autoimmune diseases, such as MS, Type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s
disease, as well as in regions associated with cancers such as leukemia and
colorectal cancer.

Researcher Sreeram Ramagopalan of
Oxford University stated in a news release that, “Considerations of vitamin D
supplementation as a preventive measure for these diseases are strongly
warranted.” However, much debate remains as to just how much daily vitamin D
one should get for the amount to be deemed healthy. While 400 daily units may
be enough to prevent  a disease like
rickets in children, it may not be a large enough quantity to promote general
good health and prevent illness. Some experts suggest that newborns should
start out getting 400 units of vitamin D a day, and up to 1,000 units per day
after the age of 1 year. For teens, the amount suggested is 2,000 units per
day, while for adults the various amounts deemed healthy by experts range from
2,000 to 10,000 units daily. Ramagopalan says 2,000 IU daily may be needed to
prevent disease, while the Vitamin D Council recommends 5,000 IU. Working to
establish standards needs to be a priority.

Another study began in May of this
year. Arthritis Research UK funded a research project by Dr. David Sansom and
Dr. Karim Raza from the University of Birmingham on the effects that vitamin D
has in preventing rheumatoid arthritis—a common autoimmune disease—from developing.
The researchers said, “We have recently found that vitamin D can have powerful
effects on the type of immune cells which may cause rheumatoid arthritis…. This
study will help us understand a lot more about how this happens. This is the
first stage in considering whether vitamin D could be used as a treatment
alongside or instead of current treatments.”

Is estimated that over 1 billion
people around the globe are deficient in vitamin D. This widespread vitamin D
deficiency may be related to the increase of many diseases, such as cancer,
depression, obesity, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and osteoporosis.
Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is essential. The simplest and most inexpensive
way is to spend 15-30 minutes a day exposed to natural sunlight. Vitamin D
supplements are also available, and certain food products such as fortified
dairy productions, oily fish and eggs can deliver the vitamin.