Vitamin D is much more than just a simple nutrient required to meet our target RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance). Known as the sunshine vitamin, recent research suggests that its role goes well beyond just maintaining bone health. While it is essential for strong bones, vitamin D also acts as a hormonal precursor. It has many other health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and autoimmune conditions.

Our body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, most of us don’t get enough of it, as we’re indoors all day and lather sunblock for the little time we are actually outdoors. Here are four reasons why vitamin D is oh-so-important.

1. Protects Against Osteoporosis
Vitamin D plays an important role in absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestines. Together with calcium, it builds strong bones and teeth. Deficiency of this vitamin is associated with low bone mass, which is the main reason for developing osteoporosis. (Related Article: Calcium For Strong Bones And Teeth)

2. Reduces The Risk Of Cancer
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that reduces cellular growth and improves cell differentiation, both of which can reduce the risk of cancer. It also acts as a transcription factor (involved in making proteins in the body), which has the ability to turn genes on or off.

3. Acts As A Natural Antibiotic
This vitamin assists the WBCs (White Blood Cells) in clearing infections from the body. It does this by activating the immune cells to make a protein called cathelicidin, which is found on T cells in our skin, as well as neutrophils and macrophages. It defends the body against viruses and bacteria when activated in response to an immune threat. (Related Article: 5 Natural Antibiotics You Probably Didn’t Know About)

4. Protects Against Heart Attacks
Vitamin D3 is believed to improve the levels of HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), or good cholesterol, in the blood. As we know, HDL is required to protect the heart from bad cholesterol. (Related Article: 10 Natural Remedies For Heart Disease)

It is essential to keep a check on the vitamin D levels. Here are three tips to make sure you get enough vitamin D on a daily basis:

1. Early Morning Sun
UV radiation from the sun is the best way your body can make vitamin D. However, too much sun can give you sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. The early morning sun is also the mildest, so, as soon as you wake up, grab a mug of coffee and head for your garden or balcony to bask in some sunlight.

2. Vitamin D-Rich Foods
While natural food sources of vitamin D are limited, you can include foods rich in vitamin D in your daily diet. These include eggs, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna), white mushrooms, carrots, leafy and collard greens. Milk, fruit juices and cereal can also replenish vitamin D levels in your body.

3. Vitamin D Supplements
Speak to your physician to determine the correct dosage, depending on your age, gender and health status.

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