Did your mother ever make you swallow spoonfuls of cod liver oil when you were a kid? If so, you were not alone, and maybe your mother knew what she was doing! Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D which crucial to the human body. Vitamin D is not a typically vitamin because the skin can manufacture it, however it is essential to the body because it helps to maintain the proper calcium levels in the body.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin whose primary role in the body is to maintain calcium levels by increasing the absorption levels of calcium from food while decreasing the amount of calcium lost through urine. Vitamin D will also help to transfer calcium from the bones if there are inadequate stores of calcium in the body. Most people realize that it important to get enough calcium, however many do not know that vitamin D is necessary as well.
Vitamin D is a unique vitamin because besides dietary sources, the main source of vitamin D is from the sunshine. After exposure to UV sunlight, the body can manufacture vitamin D; this is why it is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin. Most people can maintain proper vitamin D levels simply by getting outside and enjoying the sunlight. However, deficiencies can be detected during the winter months when sun exposure is limited, there is more cloud cover and people do not tend to venture out doors as often.
During the winter months it is very important to supplement with vitamin D or make an effort to expose themselves to the sunlight. You can also find vitamin D in egg yolks, butter and other foods that are fortified with the vitamin. If you decide to supplement, 200IU a day is sufficient for most adults.
The most common symptom of vitamin D deficiency is rickets in children which can lead to skeletal deformities which may include long, bowed bones. In adults, a vitamin D deficiency may lead to osteomaliacia which leads to weak bones and muscular weakness.
Deficiencies are mostly noted in people who restrict their access to sunlight, live in highly polluted areas, use very high SPF daily, alcoholics, dark skinned people, and vegetarians who avoid vitamin D fortified dairy foods. Also, people with liver and kidney diseases may be able to produce vitamin D, but not activate it.
Besides being essential for calcium, vitamin D has also been used in connection with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, osteoporosis, celiac disease, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.