Do you know that there are 13 vitamins in this world? Yet, the most familiar are vitamin A, B and C. Vitamins in general help our body to grow and for our body to maintain its function. One of the 13 vitamins that seem not to get much attention in the public is vitamin D. While there are so many vitamin supplements sold in pharmacies or advertised on TV, the importance of vitamin D intake seems not to cross much on people’s minds, thus not as many products as other vitamins.
Vitamin D is nicknamed sunshine vitamin as it helps to make vitamin D that is already available in the human body, particularly skin. When the sunray hits the skin, it produces energy and activates the skin to produce its own vitamin D. Vitamin D is divided into two which are vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is derived from plants such as mushrooms while vitamin D3 is mostly from animals such as salmon and in humans itself. Between vitamin D2 and D3, vitamin D3 is much more effective to work in the body as it is abundant in the body and much sustained to be utilised.
What is the function of vitamin D, specifically vitamin D3? This vitamin helps to absorb the calcium in the blood. Think of it as a transport that helps to bring calcium to the organ needed such as bone and teeth. In low concentration of vitamin D3, the calcium would be a waste. Thus, vitamin D3 is very important for strong bones and teeth. It also acts as a protective factor for the heart against heart diseases.
Before we go further on what happens if vitamin D3 is low, we should know how come a person has low vitamin D3. For instance, even in tropical countries like our own beloved Malaysia where the sun always shines and many chances of vitamin D3 to be produced, vitamin D3 deficiency cases are still quite high. A survey in 2013 shows 47.5 % children aged 4 to 12 years old and a study in 2016 shows 67.4 % adults have vitamin D deficiency. A person with the deficiency might have a low intake of food rich in vitamin D3 such as beef, sardines, egg yolks and fortified food like milks and cereal. Less sun exposure might be another reason for the deficiency as more preferred to stay indoors.
As we know, deficiency of vitamin D3 will cause problems to the bone and teeth. Rickets in children are common due to prolonged vitamin D deficiency. Kids with rickets will have soft and weak bones. This will lead to abnormal bone shape such as bowing and difficult for the kids to walk normally due to the bone shape and pain in the spine and legs. The child’s permanent teeth can get affected and caries come with it might lead to the child losing teeth at a very young age. While in a child with vitamin D deficiency called rickets, the same condition of weak and soft bone can happen to an adult, which is called osteomalacia. Osteomalacia luckily can be reversed with vitamin D supplementation.
Recommended daily intake of vitamin D are 600 to 800 IU. Any amount more than 4000 IU can cause toxicity to the body and harmful effects such as heart and kidney impairment. It is important for humans from all ages to get sufficient vitamin D, especially vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is best sourced from food as eating food helps to get other nutrients needed.