Obesity, diabetes and heart disease get a lot of attention. That makes sense, with so many people suffering from one or more of these conditions. Yet, those who suffer from these and other conditions are small compared to those suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Is it possible these conditions are nothing more than symptoms of a more fundamental problem?
If Vitamin D Deficiency Were a Disease, It Would Be Worse Than a Plague
In 2010, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed 90% of people in the U.S. with pigmented skin are deficient in vitamin D. For those with lighter skin, the number is 75% with a deficiency. Those numbers doubled since 2000.[i]
Over that time, researchers have come to a deeper understanding of vitamin D. They’ve also found links between it and many chronic conditions today, which may not be a surprise as they’ve also observed that it’s not really a vitamin.
A Unique Vitamin
According to nutritional experts, vitamin D is a hormone, not a vitamin. The body naturally produces vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol after exposure to UVB radiation from the sun. The liver converts it into 25(OH)D and then the kidneys activate it as 1,25(OH)2D. And it behaves like a hormone, especially with calcium metabolism.[ii]
Perhaps even more amazing, to get enough of this vitamin, all that’s needed is some time in the sun. Lighter skinned people can get all they need in 15 minutes of summer sun. For darker skin colors, longer exposure is needed. But as it turns out, getting out in the sun may not be enough which appears to be a big problem for health.
The Growing Understanding of Vitamin D’s Role in Health
Vitamin D’s importance to bone health has been known for a long time. Relatively recently it became known as a key part of the immune system – it’s needed to activate T-cells. Without it, they won’t attack antigens.[iii]
Even more recently, researchers discovered that boosting vitamin D levels might address daytime fatigue. A 61-year old male suffering from fatigue was discovered by his doctor to be low on 25(OH)D. He started taking a vitamin D supplement and at both his 3 and 12-month follow-up visits, his fatigue has been completely resolved.[iv]
It’s also been linked to gene activation.[v] And vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to many of today’s most common chronic conditions.
Chronic Conditions Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency
Individuals struggling with obesity have been found to have lower levels of vitamin D, up to 35% higher.[vi],[vii] There is still more research to be done on this relationship as it’s been suggested that those who carry more weight may wear more clothing and get outside less.[viii] However, research with animals has suggested vitamin D deficiency itself may be related to weight gain.[ix]
Other research suggests vitamin D deficiency may be related to metabolic syndrome. A recently published study found 57.8% of women over age 50 suffering from metabolic syndrome had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D.[x]
- Heart disease
- Asthma and other respiratory tract conditions
- Autoimmune responses
Even cancer has been linked to low vitamin D levels. Of course, this doesn’t mean insufficient or deficient vitamin D causes any of these, but the extreme levels of deficiency or insufficiency certainly suggest an area for quick improvement.
Yet, as more recent research indicates, that may be more difficult than simply getting out and getting some sun.
Why Vitamin D Supplements Aren’t Enough
A study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests vitamin D supplementation isn’t enough, nor is getting enough sunlight. The researchers discovered that magnesium is needed to activate vitamin D. Without enough magnesium, vitamin D remains stored and available, but in an inactive state.[xiii]
As a unique vitamin, or hormone, vitamin D may hold the key to many chronic conditions. The challenge for individuals may be to get adequate nutrition to make use of the vitamin D they do get.
[iii] von Essen MR1, et al. Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells. Nat Immunol. 2010 Apr;11(4):344-9. doi: 10.1038/ni.1851. Epub 2010 Mar 7.
[iv] Johnson K1, Sattari M1. Vitamin D deficiency and fatigue: an unusual presentation. Springerplus. 2015 Oct 7;4:584. doi: 10.1186/s40064-015-1376-x. eCollection 2015.
[vii] Pereira-Santos M1, et al. Obesity and vitamin D deficiency: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2015 Apr;16(4):341-9. doi: 10.1111/obr.12239. Epub 2015 Feb 17.
[viii] Pourshahidi LK1. Vitamin D and obesity: current perspectives and future directions.Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 May;74(2):115-24. doi: 10.1017/S0029665114001578. Epub 2014 Oct 31.
[x] Eneida Boteon Schmitt, Jorge Nahas-Neto, Flavia Bueloni-Dias, Priscila Ferreira Poloni, Claudio Lera Orsatti, Eliana Aguiar Petri Nahas. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women. Maturitas, 2018; 107: 97 DOI: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.10.011
[xii] Matyjaszek-Matuszek B, Lenart-Lipi?ska M, Wo?niakowska E. Clinical implications of vitamin D deficiency. Przegla?d Menopauzalny = Menopause Review. 2015;14(2):75-81. doi:10.5114/pm.2015.52149.
[xiii] Anne Marie Uwitonze, Mohammed S. Razzaque. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function.The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2018; 118 (3): 181 DOI: 10.7556/jaoa.2018.037