Vitamin D is essential for our body. It strengthens our immune system, our bones and supports our muscles. Many people underestimate the importance of vitamin D and unknowingly suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
The human body produces vitamin D by itself, but it needs support from the sun. Without its rays we would have a hard time producing enough vitamin D to live. Some vitamin D can also be taken up through a healthy diet – by eating fatty fish, mushrooms or dairy products.
The fact that our main source of vitamin D is sunlight, means that many people in the northern hemisphere suffer from vitamin D deficiency, especially in winter. An extreme deficiency can cause bone damage, which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis or rickets, a malformation of the bones. There is also a danger that the immune system is weakened, making the affected person more prone to infections.
Another theory states that vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of developing specific chronic diseases, such as diabetes type 2, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer. Current research is also studying the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and vitamin D deficiency. It is looking into the fact that vitamin D supplementation might actually slow down or partly reverse the effects of MS and other autoimmune diseases on the human body.
“A vitamin D deficiency can be diagnosed with the help of a simple blood test. The concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is formed by Vitamin D in the liver is tested,” explains Dr. Barbara Thorand of the Institute for Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Center Munich in Germany. “A serum concentration of 50nmol/L or 20ng/ml and above is seen as the optimal Vitamin D level.”
The researcher led a recent study which showed that more than 50% of elderly German people have a vitamin D deficiency. Although vitamin D deficiency can occur in all age groups, old people are especially affected.
“With increasing age, our skin loses the ability to produce vitamin D with the sun’s help. That’s why elderly people aged 65 and above, have a higher risk of suffering from a vitamin D shortage,” says Thorand.
Vitamin D regulates the uptake and use of calcium in the body. It is an essential component of our bones. But calcium is also the reason why taking vitamin D supplements can become dangerous. “A continued overdose of vitamin D can lead to an extreme uptake of calcium. This so-called hypercalcemia can cause calcification of organs and vessels, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones or foster heart attacks, for example”, Thorand explains.
She therefore advises to consult a doctor before taking vitamin D supplements. Nevertheless, the researcher gives the all-clear: “With the usually available dose of 1000 IU/day you don’t have to fear an overdose.”