The Science of Nutrition: Vitamin D

If you are a nerd like me, this is what the molecular structure of Vitamin D3 looks like.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Vitamin D.  In recent years, companies have started fortifying just about everything with Vitamin D, even things that really have no business being fortified with Vitamin D (take orange juice for instance).  Since it’s being added to everything, it must be important right?  Well, it is and researchers are constantly finding new reasons that Vitamin D is important for you and your diet.

So let’s talk about Vitamin D.  The first thing you should know is that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.  This means that you need to consume fat in order for your body to pick up and process Vitamin D.  This is why drugs like Alli aren’t good for making sure you have enough Vitamin D: if your body can’t absorb fat, it can’t absorb Vitamin D or any other type of fat-soluble vitamin.  In turn, because Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc, you’ll also have trouble absorbing these vitamins.

Another thing you should know about Vitamin D is that sun exposure can also help to synthesize it.  In winter months where there is very little sunlight and you spend very little time outside, it’s important to make sure you get the appropriate amount of Vitamin D from your diet.

Vitamin D, research seems to show, is essential for just about everything.  Vitamin D promotes bone health by helping with calcium absorption, and also helps with boosting your immune system.  Vitamin D does this by helping to promote the development of CD-8 T Cells, also called Cytotoxic T Cells, the only cell in your immune system that can directly attack and kill foreign, infected cells.  Research shows that adequate levels of Vitamin D can help to prevent influenza while low levels of Vitamin D can increase an individual’s risk for Tuberculosis, HIV, and other viral infections.  Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

So, where to find Vitamin D?  As I mentioned above, sunlight is really the best place to get Vitamin D from, but it also naturally occurs in some fish (swordfish, tuna fish, mackerel all have some).  You can also take supplements or eat foods that are fortified with the Vitamin (milk often is) to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts.

To learn more, you can visit the NIH’s Page on Vitamin D.  I found it extremely informative and it really delves into the science if you’re into that.

Drink up!

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