An interesting sociological experiment is to start typing something into Google, and then watch how Google auto-fills your query based on its most popular queries. For instance, typing, “definition of…” yields questions like “definition of democracy,” “definition of fascism,” and “definition of racism.” Seeing the search engine’s most popular searches provides a window into our collective concerns of the moment.
Those who follow nutrition trends will not be surprised, then, that the most popular query when typing “vitamin…” into Google is “Vitamin D.” Ever since a 2008 article in the Molecular Journal of Medicine described responses to the “Vitamin D deficiency pandemic,” a lack of Vitamin D has been blamed for everything from cancer to mood disorders. Doctors and naturopaths have rushed to prescribe Vitamin D supplements, advising dosages as much as four times higher than the recommended daily allowance (RDA), especially for people over 70.
Vitamin D is indeed crucial for overall health. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium, making it an important part of the body’s fight against osteoporosis and weakening of bones. Extreme Vitamin D deficiency in children causes rickets, which causes serious and sometimes irreversible lack of bone growth and density. According to the Mayo Clinic, Vitamin D sufficiency has been scientifically proven to help prevent the following conditions:
- Kidney disease (causing low phosphate levels)
- Osteomalacia (bone softening in adults)
- Psoriasis (disorder causing skin redness and irritation)
- Rickets (bone weakening in children)
- Thyroid conditions
Less conclusively, but still suggestively, Vitamin D sufficiency has also been tied to
- Cavity prevention
- Fall prevention in elders
- Relief for muscle pain and weakness
- Help for mood disorders
- Increased mental performance
A fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin D is produced by humans naturally when their skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, with modern understanding about the dangers of overexposure to the sun’s rays, people have been severely limiting their skin’s exposure to the sun, which has resulted in a reduction of Vitamin D production in their bodies.
To replace this natural source of Vitamin D, many people have turned to nutritional supplements. However, recent studies have shown that Vitamin D supplements, taken on their own, do not improve musculoskeletal outcomes. Instead, reach for one of the few foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D: fatty fish like salmon or swordfish, beef liver, or egg yolk. Or, since these foods can be hard to come by, especially during the day, try a Vitamin D-fortified product, like most milk and many brands of cereal and orange juice.