Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that are naturally made by the body when it is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight. However, for people who live in places where sunlight is not plentiful or, even if available, cannot reap its benefits because they are protected via sunscreen, the body can easily become deficient in this all important vitamin that is required for bones, teeth and absorption of calcium. While there are five different forms of Vitamin D (D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5), the two that are important are D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol) and of these two, lack of D3 has been linked to many ailments.
A simple blood test can point to the exact Vitamin D3 ¬levels in the blood. If your levels are low, then your healthcare provider may prescribe oral Vitamin D3 tablets or capsules. Vitamin D has been linked to multiple diseases including cancer, hypertension, and bone disorders like osteoporosis, diabetes, brain damage, and anemia in children, multiple sclerosis, even weight loss and other disorders so doctors prefer to play it safe and prescribe supplements. Some of the studies say that deficiency increases risk, while others hold that high intake of this vitamin offers a protective effect.
Study on link between Vitamin D and preeclampsia during pregnancy
Though the intake of calcium is important during pregnancy for both mother and baby’s bone and tooth health, not too much significance has been given to Vitamin D levels during pregnancy. However, a recent study carried out by researchers led by Lisa Bodnar at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and to be published in Epidemiology, March 2014 issue, states that there is a distinct link between preeclampsia and low levels of Vitamin D.
The researchers checked out the blood of 700 pregnant women who developed preeclampsia and 3,000 mothers who did not. They also checked out other data regarding the women and came to the conclusion that when Vitamin D levels were normal, there was a 40 percent reduced risk of severe preeclampsia but not of mild preeclampsia. If the women were seriously deficient in this important vitamin in the first 26 weeks of pregnancy, then they were at risk of developing severe preeclampsia.
Do supplements help?
However, a recent study suggests that Vitamin D supplements actually do not help. A research study titled The effect of vitamin D supplementation on skeletal, vascular, or cancer outcomes: a trial sequential meta-analysis conducted by researchers led by Dr. Mark Bolland at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology interpreted various findings of different trials.
This meta analysis studied various trials on the effects of Vitamin D supplements on patients of heart attack, stroke, cerebrovascular disease, cancer, hip fracture, total fracture. The study concluded that supplements of Vitamin D with or without calcium did not change the risk by 15 percent or more of any of these conditions. The researchers also deduced that any further similar trials would not change the conclusions. They further said that there was no cause and effect relationship between Vitamin D levels and increased risk or protection against ailments. Instead, it may be that low levels of Vitamin D are actually a sign of ill health.
Earlier studies by different researchers have also been unable to conclusively link the benefits of Vitamin D supplements with protective effects against various diseases. In fact, some studies actually suggest that higher doses of this supplement may put the person at greater risk of hip fracture.
Does this mean that you should stop taking Vitamin D supplements if prescribed?
Vitamin D is indeed an important vitamin and the fact that it is difficult to source it from food is a problem. However, this fat-soluble vitamin is found in certain foods like fatty fish, mushrooms and fortified cereals and other packaged foods. If you live in an area with sunshine, you need to get at least 15 minutes of it daily. If you live in an area where there is little or no sunshine and you have low levels of Vitamin D, you should talk to your doctor about how much or how little supplements will help you.
A lot depends on your age, gender, diet and health. In addition, research always tends to come up with newer findings that may or may not be definitive.
National Institutes of Health