Vitamin D: unleash the power of the sun – N.C. State University Technician Online

Getting through the winter months can be hard enough, but making sure you get enough vitamin D might need to be the second thing on your to-do list. The winter season makes it difficult to get outside, eat healthy and take care of yourself like you would during the spring and summer months of warm, beautiful weather.

 Out of all the vitamin supplements that are offered in drugstores, vitamin D is by far the most important, according to Alli Nickell, a junior studying nutrition science and vice president of the Nutrition Club at NC State.

“Vitamin D is so important because it helps build strong bones by regulating calcium release from the bones and triggering more calcium to be absorbed in our small intestine,” Nickell said. 

According to Nickell, vitamin D enhances the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphate, which all have positive health effects. It can also help our immune system and has been linked to preventing some types of cancer.

Sarah Ash, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocess and Nutrition Sciences, said that vitamin D is a hormone. Its main role is in the maintenance of blood calcium levels. 

“[Vitamin D] works, along with two other hormones, to keep calcium levels within a narrow range by promoting its absorption from food in the GI tract and removing it from bone,” Ash said. 

Ash said that common knowledge of vitamin D has to do with bone strength; however, there’s actually more to the vitamin than that.

“While most people associate it [vitamin D] with helping to build strong bones, the reality is that it will pull calcium from bone if not enough is available from the diet,” Ash said. “That’s because calcium has many critical functions related to muscle contraction and nerve transmission that require its levels in the blood to be carefully controlled. Having enough calcium leftover to put away into bones is a ‘bonus.’”

However, according to Nickell, it is common for people to usually lack vitamin D during the winter months due to a lack of sunlight from being inside more often. Nickell also said that even in the spring or summer, it can be hard to get the exact right amount if you are not taking vitamin D supplements daily due to sunscreen.

 “Our skin converts sunlight to vitamin D, and then it is sent to the kidneys to be activated so it can do its job,” Nickell said. “Also, when people do go out in the sun, they usually wear sunscreen which blocks this conversion of sunlight to vitamin D. It is a double edge sword, though, because UV light is also a carcinogen [or a substance that causes cancer] so that makes wearing sunscreen a priority for most people.” 

 Not only does vitamin D help with bone strength, but it can also cause a huge change in mood and in some cases can be a preventing factor of dementia and thinning of the hair.

 Megan Wienhold, a freshman studying nutrition science and food chair of the Nutrition Club, said there are certain signs when an individual lacks vitamin D.

 “A lot of the time, vitamin D deficiency will make you feel weak because you do not have enough strength in your bones,” Wienhold said. “I have also heard of people sweating more than normal when they are not getting enough vitamin D.”

Incorporating vitamin D into our regular meals is a lot easier than one would think, according to Wienhold. She said the main source of vitamin D that most people think of is through dairy  —  with milk, yogurt and cheese being great options.

“Drink milk,” Wienhold said. “Maybe not with every meal, but at least with one meal every day.”

According to Nickell, beyond eating dairy products, there are other common foods that contain a significant amount of vitamin D. Many breads and cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.

 Another alternative route that many people take are vitamin D supplements, but one thing to be sure of is that your supplements give you from 800 to 2,000 IUs daily. Vitamin D is metabolized very slowly, so giving your body about six months of taking supplements every day will start to show a difference. 

Wienhold said she has some favorite supplement brands in particular that she finds most beneficial. 

“Nature Made has options for every kind of vitamin, including vitamin D,” Wienhold said. “The gummies are a good option as well; they provide more than just vitamin D. They have a variety of vitamins, such as, folic acid, biotin, vitamins C and E, etc.”

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