You are likely familiar with some of the benefits of taking vitamin D, including its ability to help prevent osteoporosis and colds and flu. But here are six other ways optimal levels of vitamin D can help improve or support your health, and why supplementing is so important.
- Abdominal obesity. Research has shown that vitamin D blood levels are inversely associated with excess weight and abdominal obesity. That is, the lower the blood level of vitamin D the more likely a person is to carry excess weight, particularly in the abdominal region.
- Cognitive problems. Several studies on the benefits of vitamin D have focused on cognitive function. In one study, researchers tested the vitamin D blood levels of nearly 2,000 people over age 65. After adjusting for age, education, and other factors, they found that those with low levels of vitamin D were more than twice as likely to have cognitive problems.
- Neurodegenerative diseases. Higher vitamin D levels may also protect against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. In a study from Emory University School of Medicine that followed 300 participants, 36 percent of healthy people had vitamin D deficiencies, compared to 41 percent of those with Alzheimer’s and 55 percent of those with Parkinson’s disease.
- Osteoarthritis. In a Boston University Medical Center study, researchers analyzed data from 640 participants and vitamin D blood levels were correlated with X-rays of arthritic knees over an eight-year period. An inverse relationship was noted between progression of osteoarthritis and vitamin D blood levels—the less vitamin D, the worse the arthritis.
Testosterone levels and erectile function. Low testosterone levels are a known risk factor for several conditions including depression, fatigue, weight gain, bone loss, metabolic syndrome, and reduced libido. In one study, researchers enrolled 102 middle-aged men, treated them for vitamin D deficiency, and followed them for 12 months. As vitamin D levels climbed during that time, the men had significant increases in testosterone levels and erectile function scores, as well as decreases in estradiol, BMI, and insulin resistance.
Pelvic floor disorders. Roughly one in four women suffers from a pelvic floor disorder (PFD), such as pelvic organ prolapse or fecal or urinary incontinence, and low levels of vitamin D may be a factor. In an analysis of data that included 1,881 women age 20 and older, researchers reported that each 5 ng/mL increase in vitamin D levels corresponded to a 6 percent decrease in PFDs. This means that a woman with a vitamin D level of 50 ng/mL was 24 percent less likely to suffer from a PFD than a woman who had a level of 30 ng/mL. And the protective effects were even greater among women age 50 and older, where each 5 ng/mL increase in vitamin D was associated with an 8 percent lower risk. Adequate vitamin D is required for healthy muscle synthesis, so these findings are consistent with the belief that most PFDs are the result of neuromuscular dysfunction.
Benefits of Vitamin D3 Supplements
These benefits of vitamin D are just the tip of the iceberg, which is why it’s so important to keep your blood levels in the optimal range. To do that, I recommend spending time in the sun when you can, since the primary source of vitamin D is ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, which stimulates the synthesis of this nutrient in the skin.
But even with sun exposure, most people are still deficient and should also be supplementing vitamin D as well.
There are two major types of vitamin D supplements: D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the form your body makes in response to sun exposure. This is the form you should be taking. Unfortunately, many doctors prescribe Drisdol, which contains vitamin D2 and is created by irradiating plant matter and fungus. This is basically giving your body a “foreign” form of vitamin D.
How much vitamin D3 you take depends on many factors, including your current blood levels of the nutrient as well as your sun exposure, geographic location, and skin color. Have your vitamin D levels tested and work with your doctor to find a dosage of vitamin D3 that can get you (or keep you) in the optimal range of 50–80 ng/mL. As a general rule, a daily dosage of 2,000–5,000 IU works for most people. It should be noted that the benefits of vitamin D3 supplements are especially pronounced in the dark days of winter, when the sun shines less and blood levels of this nutrient tend to plummet. You may need to take more in those months—but again, work with your doctor before increasing your dose.