Fortunately, simply spending time outdoors is often enough to cause your body to create an adequate amount of vitamin D. Generally, expose a third of your skin to the sun for 10-30 minutes about three times a week during the summer months, and you will be set to receive the benefits of vitamin D. However, this is not always possible due to busy schedules, the time of the year, the local climate or for other reasons. As a result, more than 40% of Americans suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. If you fit into that category, make sure that you and your loved ones consume enough vitamin D from other sources to receive the following benefits.
Depression and Anxiety Reduction
One of the most significant benefits of vitamin D is its ability to reduce and prevent depression and anxiety. Many people feel better after spending time in the sun, and this has much to do with why. Studies have found that people with depression who received an increase in their vitamin D intake experienced a reduction in their symptoms and that those who are suffering from a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to also be suffering from anxiety- and depression-related disorders. Some study authors added that increasing vitamin D consumption is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat depression.
Increasing amounts of evidence are showing that vitamin D helps reduce the risk of cancer. The most common ones believed to be affected are breast, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate. Researchers believe that this correlates with certain cancers being noticeably less widespread in sunlight-rich southern countries as compared to northern ones, where the sun is not nearly as readily available. However, it should be pointed out that more research needs to be done. For example, researchers are unsure how much the geographical location of those taking part in these studies is playing a role in the results unrelated to vitamin D intake. Also, dietary-specific studies don't account for sun-caused intake.
Studies have also shown that those who were provided with vitamin D supplements experienced more weight loss as compared to those who had been given placebos. One in particular found that overweight individuals who took those supplements experienced considerable improvements in their heart disease risk markers. We should also point out that overweight people tended to have lower levels of this vitamin in their systems as compared to those at healthier weights. The causes for the latter situation are unknown, but experts theorize that it could be because overweight people are less apt to be outside and more apt to consume foods and drinks that are not rich in vitamin D.
Note that one study found that how much vitamin D we need to consume is directly related to our body size, meaning that those who are overweight need to consume more of it than others do.
Vitamin D has been shown to have a positive effect on the body's sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. As a result, suffering from insulin resistance, a common precursor to type 2 diabetes, is less likely to occur. It's also believed by some that vitamin D helps regulate insulin production taking place in the pancreas. However, do note that studies on vitamin D's impact on diabetes are not conclusive, and some contradictory ones have occurred as well. One example of the latter was a 3,600-person 2019 study that found no lowering of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in participants as compared to those who had taken a placebo.
Bone Disease Prevention
One of the most significant benefits of vitamin D is its positive effect on bone diseases such as osteomalacia, osteoporosis and, for babies and young children, rickets. Although rickets is rare in the United States – it's much more prevalent in developing countries – it does still occur in this and other developed countries. The reason why vitamin D helps prevent bone disease is because it helps the body absorb calcium, the mineral that directly promotes the growth and maintenance of bones. So, make sure that you're also consuming enough calcium, or the vitamin D that you do take won't have enough calcium to push to the bones anyway.
A related benefit of vitamin D helping improve the absorption of calcium is improved tooth strength. This is a particularly important benefit for babies as well.
Decreases Seasonal Affective Disorder
This benefit goes hand in hand with using the sun to improve your vitamin D intake. The more sun that you're able to expose yourself to, the less likely that you will suffer from seasonal affective disorder. However, more to the point, it's been discovered that those who have seasonal affective disorder produce less vitamin D. These factors adversely affect your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes positive emotions such as those associated with doing things that you enjoy - e.g. spending time with a loved one or eating a piece of delicious chocolate. When your serotonin level is low, your mood will decrease.
Seasonal affective disorder is similar to depression but is seasonally based, generally occurring during particularly dark and cloudy times of the year.
Positive Effect on Respiratory Infections
Studies have also discovered that vitamin D has a positive effect on respiratory infections such as colds and flus. Those who were vitamin D deficient and given a supplement saw their infection rates cut in half while the overall reduction for study participants was about 10%. As a result, it's particularly important that those who are deficient immediately start improving their vitamin D intake so that they can take advantage of this and other benefits. Note that one group that is particularly at risk for vitamin D deficiency is pregnant and nursing women.