Vitamin D is one of the most vital vitamins for your body, and one of its best sources is sunshine. All you need to do is spend 30 minutes outdoors, soaking in the sunshine. And yet, Vitamin D deficiency is fairly common across India (a 2018 ASSOCHAM study says eight in 10 people in Delhi suffer from Vitamin D deficiency), which, in turn, leads to a host of ailments.
“Vitamin D is involved in everything from building muscle, to bone formation, and impacts your immune function as well as the functioning of your brain,” says nutritionist and physiologist Ritesh Bawri.
The ‘sunshine vitamin’ is also useful for people who are on medication for diabetes, cardiovascular disorder and cancer. It is more of a hormone and can influence other neurotransmitter hormones in the body. “Vitamin D influences the levels of serotonin, a hormone linked to depression, mood regulation and sleep. And a lack of it affects levels of testosterone which is linked to body fat, as well as levels of serotonin, which is linked to appetite,” says Luke Coutinho, holistic nutritionist and founder, PureNutrition.me.
Vitamin D levels are critical for healing as it strengthens the body’s innate immunity as well as adaptive immune response. “It helps improve brain function through its brain calcium regulation property, anti-oxidative properties, immune system regulation and enhanced brain cell signalling property,” adds Coutinho.
Sunshine is not the only source
Sunshine is one of the major sources of this vitamin as the UVB rays (during specific hours of the day) help our skin synthesise Vitamin D. “You need to be careful about the quantum of cloud cover and pollution, as what you need is the UV rays from sunlight, which can get blocked by clouds,” says Bawri.
There are some excellent dietary sources as well, such as fatty fish be it mackerel, tuna, herring or salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolk, mushrooms and organic milk. “One spoon of cod liver oil contains 100% of your daily requirement. A cup of milk has about 25% of your daily requirement which means you would need to drink four cups before you were sufficient. Compare this to a cup of mushrooms which has only 1% of your daily requirement,” says Bawri.
Effects of Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency can make your muscles atrophy, lead to depression and mood swings, cause fatigue as well as frequent leg pain. You may also suffer from lower back pain, degeneration of the spine, lumbar disc issues, and joint pain. “Bone-related problems are common as calcium does not get sufficiently absorbed into the bones due to lack of vitamin D. Apart from aches, other signs are muscle pain, hair loss and compromised immunity,” says Coutinho.
Osteoporosis is the most common effect of a chronic Vitamin D deficiency. The condition is characterised by lower bone density and brittle bones. “Vitamin D deficiency can also cause cancers in humans including prostrate, breast and colon cancer. A prolonged deficiency is linked with high blood pressure, high blood sugar due to impaired glucose metabolism, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diarrhoea, bladder problems and poor concentration,” says Coutinho.
Weight loss and Vitamin D
Interestingly, a lack of Vitamin D could also lead to weight gain. So, if weight loss is what you are after, you need to top up this vitamin. “Vitamin D has been found to assist weight loss in terms of fat loss, which is the best way to lose weight. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to weight gain as it affects the storage of fats and the production of fat cells,” says Coutinho.
While a deficiency can have dangerous consequences, going overboard is counterproductive. An excess of Vitamin D can lead to hypocalcaemia – a condition where there is a build-up of calcium in blood. “This can lead to nausea, weakness, frequent urination and vomiting. In severe cases, it can cause formation of kidney stones which are basically made of calcium. Confusion and general disorientation is also observed in people who ingest too much vitamin D,” says Coutinho.