The Sunshine Vitamin

By Megan Tseng



Vitamin D, also known as “going outside.” Unlike other vitamins, we get vitamin D from being out in the sun.


It’s common knowledge that having enough vitamins in your body is essential. Vitamins like vitamin D perform a wide range of functions important for maintaining our happy, healthy selves, especially during a pandemic like #COVID-19.


However, the interesting thing about vitamins is that “more” isn’t always “merrier.” There’s a certain amount that you need to stay healthy, a point when consuming more won’t help, and a limit where it can do more harm than good.


Vitamin D -- the basics


Vitamin D is produced in our bodies when rays from the sun hit our skin. Sunlight triggers several chemical reactions, including one in the liver and one in the kidneys. Besides fatty fish, egg yolks and red meat, its few natural sources, vitamin D can be added to other foods or taken as a dietary supplement.

Vitamin D can be obtained through skin contact with sunlight or dietary means.


Vitamin D is responsible for calcium absorption in the gut and maintaining an adequate level of calcium levels. Therefore, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to thin, brittle or misshapen bones, teeth, and muscles. Lower bone density also creates a greater risk of fractures.


Another important function of this vitamin is its role in the #immunesystem. It is involved in many immune-related processes such as cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Many cells also have receptors with vitamin D.



Less is more


With the COVID-19 pandemic infecting people in every corner of the world, many are turning to remedies they think will prevent them from getting sick. Among the most common is vitamin D.


Vitamin D’s importance in maintaining the immune system is scientifically proven. Many people interpret this as an easy way to ward off COVID-19; just swallow vitamin D pill after vitamin D pill to pump up the immune system and you’ll literally be immune. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, no.


If you eat a nutritious diet and go outside regularly, you’re probably getting all the vitamin D you need already. Taking a daily vitamin D supplement won’t put you in harm’s way, but going over the recommended dosage won’t help your immune system, either.

Diet and outdoor exercise are the keys to a healthy amount of vitamin D


If you take vitamin D supplements, you should be doing so to maintain your general health, and not to prevent yourself from being infected. Granted, not having enough vitamin D will weaken your immune system and put you at higher risk. However, an excess doesn’t make your immune system stronger; in fact, it can have adverse effects on your health.


Taking extra dietary vitamin D can cause vitamin D toxicity. Vitamin D toxicity leads to all sorts of terrible symptoms like anorexia, weight loss, polyuria, and heart arrhythmia. The excess levels of calcium resulting from toxicity can also damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.



Vitamin D from the sun


Another common mistake is taking more vitamin D to substitute for going outside. Because of quarantine and social distancing, many people are staying indoors in the safety of their homes. To make up for the lack of outdoor activity, some are choosing to take extra vitamin D to ensure that their immune system is fully equipped.


During times like these, it may be a good idea to start on vitamin D supplements; however, it is important to take no more than the daily amount specified on the labels. Even if you don’t go outside, an excess of dietary vitamin D can still eventually create vitamin D toxicity symptoms in your body. And believe me, the last thing you want to be these days is sick.


In the end, the best and most foolproof way to get your vitamin D is going outside. Simply reading a book in your backyard or sitting on your porch is a COVID-19-safe (and enjoyable!) way for sunlight to activate vitamin D synthesis under your skin. In addition, you can’t overdose on sunlight. Studies have shown that after a certain period of time, prolonged heat on the skin will actually degrade components involved in vitamin D synthesis. In other words, being out in the sun for a long time won’t lead to anything other than a healthy amount of vitamin D and -- maybe -- a sunburn. So just… remember to put on sunscreen, I guess.



Suffice to say, there is no easy way out of washing your hands and going outside to exercise (sorry if you’re disappointed). The best methods to prevent yourself from getting sick is practicing good hygiene, eating a nutritious diet, and staying active every day.


If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, or any other dietary #vitamins, make sure it is in moderation and according to recommended dosages. So keep calm and read the labels, guys!




References

  1. Landsverk, Gabby. “Take vitamin D supplements to make up for lost sunshine while quarantined indoors, the UK's top nutritionist says.” Insider, 23 Apr 2020, www.insider.com/take-vitamin-d-supplements-in-quarantine-public-health-england-says-2020-4.

  2. Landsverk, Gabby. “Vitamins and supplements won't protect you from the coronavirus despite immune-boosting claims.” Insider, 11 Mar 2020, www.insider.com/supplements-vitamins-herbs-cant-prevent-or-cure-coronavirus-2020-3.

  3. “Vitamin D.” National Institutes of Health, 24 Mar 2020, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/.

The Scientific Teen

Since June 2018

Using science writing as a medium, we aim to advance collaboration between young adults worldwide with the belief that through educating people today, we can solve worldwide problems tomorrow. By providing opportunities for youth interested in science, together we can increase the presence of scientific writing in schools, further science education, and encourage future careers in STEM.

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The Scientific Teen 2020.