Vitamin D helps prevent osteoporosis, a painful disease caused by the thinning of bones. It is usually considered that calcium deficiency is responsible for weakening of bones leading to fractures and mobility problems but research has shown that along with calcium, deficiency of Vitamin D is equally responsible for unhealthy bones.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease which affects your bones and makes them thin and brittle which increases risks of a fracture. It involves reduction of the BMD or bone mineral density, alteration of proteins and disruption of bone microarchitecture. Osteoporosis is more common in women, especially in post-menopausal women than in men. It is also frequently seen in the elderly. Though the disease itself doesn’t have any specific symptom, the weakening of bones in people suffering from this disease increases risks of fractures. Also known as ‘fragility fractures’, the osteoporotic fractures typically occur in the rib, hip, wrist and vertebral column. Although the main reason for osteoporosis is degeneration of bones due to deficiency of calcium and Vitamin D, it can also result from other chronic diseases, as a side-effect of certain medications or due to severe hormonal disorders. Osteoporosis can come from glucocorticoids known as steroid induced osteoporosis or from hyperactivity of the parathyroid gland called hyperparathyroidism. Often the major cause of osteoporosis in children and men is hyperparathyroidism. Treatment of vitamin D deficiency symptoms like osteoporosis involves medication, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes.
Vitamin D and Bone Health
Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin D has a greater role in maintaining your bone health than calcium. Although inadequate calcium intake and calcium depletion is considered the largest contributor to the weakening of bones and increasing chances of fractures, it is actually Vitamin D which determines your bone health. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium which remains in blood circulation and the amount which is deposited in your teeth and bones. It promotes the absorption of phosphorous and calcium in your body, strengthening your bones. Even if you intake calcium in adequate amounts through your food and medicinal supplements, if you have less than optimum level of Vitamin D, the calcium will remain in the bloodstream and will not be absorbed, which could ultimately lead to the deterioration of your bones.
As per the findings of the National Institutes of Health, there is less than 10% absorption of calcium available in the bloodstream if a person is suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, which greatly increases the risk of osteoporosis. A Harvard Medical School study showed that only individuals who had higher levels of Vitamin D along with high levels of calcium were at a lower risk of developing hip fractures.
Vitamin D is of two types: Vitamin D3 and Vitamin D3. While Vitamin D2 is known as ergocalciferol, Vitamin D3 is known as cholecalciferol. Although previous researches showed Vitamin D3 to have a greater role in calcium absorption, recent studies have proved that Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 are equally beneficial to bone health. Vitamin D has several important functions in preventing osteoporosis. Apart from promoting the absorption of phosphorous and calcium in the intestines during digestion, Vitamin D promotes calcium re-absorption in the kidneys. It also inhibits the release of parathyroid hormone, of which is a major cause of osteoporosis. Parathyroid hormone stimulates osteoclasts – a type of bone cell which removes the mineralized matrix of bone tissue resulting in bone resorption. Sufficient amounts of Vitamin D prevents bone break down and helps in building up of bone tissue by promoting calcium absorption. Calcium is not only the main component of our bones but also has a major role in other body functions like secretion of enzymes and hormones, expansion and contraction of blood vessels, muscle contractions, helping transmit nerve impulses and various other body functions. While children require calcium for their growing bones, adults require it for maintaining their bone strength. Vitamin D and Calcium are both vital elements for our body’s proper functioning.
Sources of Vitamin D
- Food – Vitamin D is present in fatty fishes like Salmon, Mackerel and tuna, in cod liver oil, egg yolks. Packaged milk, cereal, yogurt, butter and cheese are also fortified with Vitamin D.
- Sunlight – When exposed to sunlight our skin synthesizes Vitamin D. The amount of Vitamin D synthesized depends on weather, season, place and also skin pigmentation. Lighter colored skins synthesize more Vitamin D than darker skins. Also people living near the tropics synthesize more Vitamin D due to the availability of adequate sunshine.
- Medical Supplementation – Combining Vitamin D supplements along with your calcium supplements creates stronger bones preventing osteoporosis.
To prevent osteoporosis, a daily intake of 200 IU to 2000 IU Vitamin D is recommended for adults. Vitamin D supplements should be taken only after consulting a physician.
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