Vitamin D is More Than Just Strong Bones…

Vitamin D is probably one of the first vitamins you ever became aware of as a kid — milk, sunlight, and bad experiences with liver, that’s where most of us stop when we think of this absorption-aiding “vitamin.” (It’s actually a prohormone.)

That’s a bit unfair since this hard-to-classify nutritional staple can be beneficial to everyone from athletes to the elderly. Vitamin D has a lot more going on than many people realize.

A Forgotten Performance Booster

If you were passing time in Eastern European countries in the 50s, you might already know this, but vitamin D can be a serious performance booster. It’s well known that it optimizes skeletal and muscle function, but for athletes, the benefits can be notable. Increasing amounts of research and anecdotal evidence are beginning to point to the idea that vitamin D can genuinely improve athletic performance.

Six decades ago, Eastern bloc countries put so much faith in vitamin D that they would plant their athletes in front of sunlamps…a practice that apparently paid off. Their runners saw a 7.4 percent improvement in 100m times (in comparison to the 1.7 percent boost in a control group.) Additionally, a study of soccer players revealed improved sprint times, and another study found that muscles demonstrate increase strength with vitamin D intake.

For decades, researchers have found links between vitamin D and muscle health.

The potential muscular boost has gotten more recent attention, with researchers at the University of Birmingham tackling the relationship between the vitamin and muscle mass. They studied 116 healthy volunteers (ages 20 to 74) and found a positive correlation between levels of lean mass and active forms of vitamin D. This study opens the door to more research to understand the relationship between vitamin D, muscle mass and strength, and even sex.

A Friend in Cold and Flu Season

Whether we’re talking athletes or your average American who just wants to avoid unnecessary sickness, vitamin D still deserves some extra attention.

A study out of Queen Mary University has put together some pretty strong evidence that supplementing vitamin D could provide protection against acute respiratory infections, colds and the flu included. Researchers studied raw data from 11,000 participants around the world and came to the conclusion that vitamin D boosts levels of anti-microbial peptides, which function like natural antibiotics, a connection which could also explain the correlation between vitamin D and protection against asthma attacks.

Vitamin D may provide an immune boost during cold and flu season.

An Aid in Aging

Muscle performance isn’t a concern for athletes only. Falls in elderly populations are a direct result of the deterioration in muscle that comes with age. For cancer patients, this presents a double risk, and vitamin D might be able to help.

Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston examined patients over age 65 who were receiving active cancer care for urologic, breast, gynecologic, lung, or gastrointestinal cancers. These patients were more likely to experience osteoporosis, frailty, and vitamin D insufficiency which in turn increased the likelihood of injurious falls.

According to Beatrice J. Edwards, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., associate professor geriatric medicine and author on the study “Vitamin D reduces falls by 50 percent, and we know it has some anti-cancer effects.”

Studies suggest that both inactive and active seniors may benefit from adding vitamin D supplements to their health regiments.

A Foundation of a Healthy Heart and a Happy Gut

No matter who you are, a healthy heart should be a top priority, and vitamin D could be a powerful aid in achieving optimal cardiovascular health.

Data from 13,039 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study revealed a correlation between vitamin D deficiency, 25(OH)D levels and lower levels of HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) over time.

Moving a bit lower in the body, low levels of vitamin D have been found to correlate with relapse in ulcerative colitis patients. Researchers conducting a study out of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center believe that the connection is due to the relationship between vitamin D and the protein cathelicidin in the cells that line the colon. It’s believed that the relationship has beneficial effects on the microbial composition in that area of the body.

Research suggests that vitamin D may play a key role in gut health.

So should you start planning a Caribbean vacation and popping beef liver supplements tomorrow? Not exactly.

While there’s been a bump in the use of vitamin D supplements in the U.S., individual needs vary based on goals, current health makeup, and lifestyle. A simple trip to a physician can go a long way in determining exactly how individuals can benefit from D in a way that optimizes their health and performance goals.

Looking for more? Click here to check out this blog post on fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.