Beyond Bone Health: The Power of Vitamin D
A simple glass of milk can do a lot for your health. Thanks to the "Got Milk" campaign, many women know that it packs a healthy punch of calcium and vitamin D - two nutrients critical for strong bones. But did you know vitamin D may be beneficial beyond bone health? Ongoing research suggests it may have some truly potent powers.
Scientists have known about vitamin D for nearly 100 years. It was first identified as a nutrient useful in preventing rickets, a childhood disease that causes weak and deformed bones. Although it's called a vitamin, some scientists actually consider it a prohormone - a type of substance that's similar to a hormone but doesn't fully act like one.
Vitamin D's chief function is to help the body absorb calcium. This process leads to stronger bones. Vitamin D also figures into several other essential functions of the body. It pumps up muscle strength, boosts the immune system, and improves messaging between the nerves, the brain, and other parts of the body.
As calcium's companion, vitamin D helps prevent osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bone and increases the likelihood of fractures. Women are especially at risk for osteoporosis after menopause, because their body makes less estrogen. That fact alone should put vitamin D on top of your nutrient list.
Research has provided even more reasons to make sure your body has enough vitamin D. Some studies have suggested that higher levels of vitamin D may be linked to a reduced risk for certain cancers - in particular, colorectal and breast cancer. Experts haven't yet confirmed this connection; more research is needed.
Your brain may also benefit from vitamin D. In a recent study published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers found that older women who consumed less vitamin D were more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Those with the most vitamin D intake were more than four times less likely to develop the condition.
Your body can naturally create some vitamin D through simple sun exposure. But because of skin cancer risks, experts recommend limiting the amount of time you spend outside without sunscreen protection. It's better to get the majority of your vitamin D from food. You can also take a vitamin D supplement, but talk with your doctor first. Like other nutrients, too much vitamin D can harm your body, and supplements may interact with other medications.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.