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What Factors Affect Vitamin D Production?

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What factors affect Vitamin D production?

Understanding the Target for Vitamin D

In a 2018 article, the authors explain how active Vitamin D3, called calcitriol, works and what it does in the body.1 Here is what they had to say:

  • Vitamin D3 increases absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the small intestine.
  • Vitamin D decreases the elimination of calcium in the kidneys (increasing calcium retention and reabsorption).
  • It increases bone mineralization.
  • It increases the differentiation of osteoclasts (the osteoclast is the cell that resorbs bone) and bone reabsorption. Bone reabsorption is the process by which osteoclasts break down the tissue in bones and release the minerals. This results in the transfer of calcium and phosphorus into the blood.
  • Decreases parathyroid hormone (PTH) synthesis and release from the parathyroid gland. PTH controls the level of calcium in the blood, and it also controls phosphorus and vitamin D levels.
  • Vitamin D influences over 200 genes. Many of these genes are involved in cell growth, specialization, cell death, and the formation of new blood vessels.
  • It regulates the cell cycle, controlling cell growth and differentiation.
  •       In the tumor microenvironment, vitamin D inhibits proliferation (the process by which cells grow and divide) and angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels) and induces differentiation. 
  • Boosts the body’s innate immunity and helps kill harmful microbes, controlling their ability to cause disease.
  • Vitamin D is an excellent immunomodulator (regulates immune response), by inducing differentiation in immune cells. Prevents autoimmune diseases.
  • It increases and regulates insulin secretion.
  • It reduces renin synthesis (renin is a central hormone in the control of blood pressure and various other physiological functions). Aids in blood pressure regulation.
  • Vitamin D improves cardiovascular health. Increases myocardial contractility and smooth muscle cell proliferation.
  • It reduces inflammation.
  • It reduces left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). LVH is the thickening of the heart muscle of the left ventricle of the heart.
  • Vitamin D improves hematopoiesis, the process by which blood cells are formed.
  • Vitamin D aids in brain development and improves brain function.

Clinical applications of vitamin D

Vitamin D targets a wide range of disorders  and has a broad clinical application. A deficiency in Vitamin D can contribute to various health problems. Some of these issues caused by a lack of Vitamin D include1,2,3:

  • Bone-related problems affecting bone health and neuromuscular function, such as rickets, soft bones disease (osteomalacia), weak and fragile bones (osteoporosis), and bone breaks (fractures).
  • Multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Neuropsychiatric disorders
  • Infectious diseases, such as upper respiratory tract infections, and influenza
  • Chronically fermenting cells. Vitamin D has been researched especially for cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon
  • Some leukemias and myeloproliferative disorders
  • Skin disorders like psoriasis and ichthyosis.

How do we measure vitamin D and what do those values mean?

Vitamin D is usually measured through serum levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25(OH)D), also known as calcidiol, the circulating form of vitamin D3.

A normal level of Vitamin D varies from person to person, and according to their health condition. Although a consensus regarding the ideal levels of Vitamin D is hard to achieve, most researchers and studies demonstrate that vitamin D insufficiency is a worldwide health problem4.

Maximizing Vitamin D Levels: Understanding Its Longevity and Boosting Production

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, lingers in the body for an extended period, with a half-life of approximately two to three weeks. This longevity allows the body to maintain consistent levels, influenced by factors such as the type of vitamin D (D2 or D3), individual variations, and overall health.

Adequate sun exposure, consumption of vitamin D-rich foods, including plant-based vitamin D sources, and supplements if necessary, contribute to sustaining optimal vitamin D levels. Regular monitoring through blood tests ensures informed decisions on maintaining vitamin D status, reducing the risk of deficiencies, and understanding how to raise vitamin D levels effectively.

In terms of vitamin D status in the body in what relates to vitamin D levels (serum 25(OH)-D levels) most experts agree5,6:

  • Severe deficiency < 5 ng/ml (< 12.5 nmol/L)
  • Deficiency < 20 ng/ml (< 50 nmol/L)
  • Insufficiency 20-32 ng/ml (50-80 nmol/L)
  • Sufficiency 32-100 ng/ml (80-250 nmol/L)
  • Excess >100 ng/ml (> 250 nmol/L)
  • Intoxication >150 ng/ml (>325 nmol/L)

What is the recommended level of vitamin D?

To optimize the health benefits of vitamin D, it’s recommended to have a circulating level of calcidiol above 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L)7. Additionally, maintaining blood concentrations above 32 ng/mL (80 nmol/L) is crucial not only for maximizing intestinal calcium but also for providing the enzyme (1 alpha-hydroxylase) that is present in most tissues to produce the active vitamin D6. In summary, keeping the circulating form of vitamin D3, calcidiol, at levels above 75 nmol/L or 30 ng/mL is advisable.

Is it possible to produce too much Vitamin D and get intoxicated?

Vitamin D intoxication is among the rarest medical conditions in all medical literature. The registered cases of intoxication are often caused by negligent or intentional ingestion of extremely high doses of vitamin D for prolonged periods of time8.

Vitamin D intoxication is defined as a 25(OH)D > 150 ng/ml. It can cause problems like high  calcium levels in the blood and urine, elevated levels of phosphorus in the blood, and suppression of PTH. This can lead to the deposition of calcium salts in the kidneys (nephrocalcinosis) and the calcification and hardening of soft tissues, especially blood vessels5,9.

There has never been a reported case of vitamin D intoxication from sun exposure. Have you ever heard of a lifeguard with vitamin D intoxication? No matter how much sun exposure a person has, this will never cause vitamin D intoxication because sunlight itself destroys any excess vitamin D and previtamin D5,10.

The Role of Melanin in Regulating Vitamin D Production

One factor is the presence of melanin (the pigment that produces skin and hair color in humans) in the skin. The pigment melanin in the skin absorbs UV radiation, competing with provitamin D3 and limiting its conversion to previtamin D3. This can reduce the effectiveness of sunlight in producing vitamin D3 in the skin. People with darker skin, usually more exposed to sunlight, produce less vitamin D3 because they have more melanin11.

Sun – The Main Factor Regulating Vitamin D Production

However, the presence of more melanin in the skin is not the primary factor preventing excess production of vitamin D in the skin of people constantly exposed to sunlight. During the initial exposure to sunlight, provitamin D3 is efficiently converted to previtamin D3, but with continued exposure, no more than 10-20% of the initial provitamin D3 will end up as previtamin D39.

This means that the sun itself regulates vitamin D production and that more time in the sun doesn’t exactly mean more vitamin D!

Vitamin D deficiency – a Worldwide Health Concern

Subclinical vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency may affect the majority of men and women in all age groups in many geographical regions4. A systematic review covering 168,000 people from 44 countries reported vitamin D deficiency (serum 25(OH)D <50 nmol/L or 20 ng/mL) in 37% of studies12.

Factors such as low sunlight exposure, age-related decreases in cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D, and diets low in vitamin D contribute to the high prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy13,14. Children, young or middle-aged adults, are equally at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency13,14, however, newborns and institutionalized elderly appear to be at higher risk of exhibiting lower vitamin D levels12.

Conclusion: Navigating Vitamin D’s Vital Impact

Our exploration of Vitamin D reveals its key roles in bone health, immune function, and disease prevention. The message is clear: maintaining optimal levels is crucial for overall health and well-being. Whether through sunlight, diet, or supplements, finding the right balance requires informed choices and regular checks. As we continue this journey, the profound benefits of Vitamin D underscore the importance of a comprehensive approach. Stay tuned for our next post, simplifying deficiency factors and offering practical prevention tips.

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Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica.  Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.

Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection.  She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.

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