What is Vitamin D and What does it do?

By Lisa Gangemi M.S in Nutrition, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

‘Get outside and soak up some Vitamin D’ is a phrase we are very familiar with hearing in the summer months. However, Vitamin D is NOT a vitamin, it is a ‘prohormone’ and most of us are unable to spend enough time in the sun to ‘soak up’ this prohormone and convert it in our body into its usable hormone form. Understanding this hormone and the role it plays in the body is key to optimize you and your family’s health.

Prohormones are substances that our body converts into a hormone. Therefore, when sunlight hits the skin, prohormone form of Vitamin D is absorbed, our liver and kidneys then work together to convert prohormone Vitamin D to its active and usable form of hormone Vitamin D.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency arises from multiple causes but most commonly is due to inadequate dietary intake and inadequate exposure to sunlight. Twenty minutes of sun exposure daily with the truncal body region (chest, stomach, or back) exposed is required to prevent vitamin D deficiency. However, most of us are unable to spend the necessary amount of time in the sunlight needed to synthesize adequate amounts of hormone vitamin D. This varies with season, location, time of day, age, skin color, weight, and underlying medical problems.

Also, children and adults with certain malabsorption syndromes such as celiac disease, short bowel syndrome, gastric bypass, irritable bowel syndrome and those with cystic fibrosis, fatty liver disease, and kidney disease may have decreased ability to convert prohormone Vitamin D to its activate form.

What Role Does Vitamin D Play in the Body?

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main building blocks for strong bones. Together with calcium, vitamin D helps protect you from developing osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones and makes you more prone to fractures and breaks. Your body needs vitamin D for other functions too. Your muscles need it to move, and your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and your body. A deficiency in Vitamin D makes you more prone to infections and illness, cardiovascular disease, and mental illnesses — including mood disorders like depression.

How Do I Increase My Child’s Vitamin D level?

At Island Kids Pediatrics we understand how important Vitamin D is for overall health and wellness. This is why we measure serum Vitamin D levels as part of your child’s annual bloodwork. When scheduling your appointment to discuss blood work results be sure to request an appointment be scheduled to meet with our Registered Dietitian to discuss the best way to optimize your child’s Vitamin D levels with a tailored personalized nutrition approach.