Ever take a walk outside when you’re in a funk and instantly start to feel better? It’s no coincidence. The sun has some powerful properties for our health, mainly because it contains vitamin D, which our bodies require to optimally function. Here’s a look at exactly what vitamin D can do, how much you need, and the signs you may not be getting enough of it.
Vitamin D is a vitamin we need to absorb calcium and to promote strong, healthy bones. It works with calcium to prevent osteoporosis, in addition to other jobs like reducing inflammation, promoting cell growth, and strengthening the immune system.
Largely produced by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, vitamin D can also be found in a few foods as well as in supplement form. Things like fortified milk (both non-dairy and dairy), certain cereals, as well as fish (like salmon and trout) all contain vitamin D.
In addition to being calcium’s sidekick to help strengthen bones, there are some other ways vitamin D supports the body:
It can treat hypertension. Research published in Current Protein & Peptide Science found that vitamin D deficiency may directly raise blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin D supplements as a part of hypertension treatment may help regulate blood pressure and protect the heart.
Vitamin D may help maintain a healthy weight. While there’s an established link between obesity and vitamin D deficiency, getting the proper amount of vitamin D can help reduce inflammation (which can prevent the body from losing weight). Restoring your vitamin D levels through a healthy diet — paired with a consistent exercise routine — may reduce body fat while simultaneously slashing the risk for obesity-related diseases.
It fights off the blues. Vitamin D is a potent mood regulator. A study published in Neuropsychiatry discovered that there was a direct relationship between a lack of vitamin D and a higher risk of depression. It’s also estimated that over one billion people aren’t getting enough vitamin D daily, and their mental health may be suffering because of it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for men and women is 15 mcg (600 IU) for those 19 to 50 years old. While you can get some of this directly from sunlight — don’t forget to wear SPF! — you may also need to supplement that sunshine. Increase your intake in vitamin D-rich foods, or make sure your daily multivitamin has enough vitamin D in it.
Since vitamin D aids in bone health, some warning signs you may be vitamin D deficient include fatigue, bone pain, and muscle cramps or weakness. If you find your mood has shifted (particularly in the winter, when sunlight hours get shorter), that may also be a sign you need more vitamin D. Mention these changes to your healthcare provider who can measure your vitamin D levels with a blood test and recommend supplements or dietary changes to restore those levels.
About the author
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more.