There is a marked heightened awareness of the public about the important role of vitamin D not only for bone health, but for overall health and well-being. During the past decade, major advances have been made in the field of vitamin D that transcend the simple concept that vitamin D was important for the prevention of rickets in children and had little function thereafter. It is now recognized that vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized epidemic throughout the entire United States and Western Europe . Vitamin D deficiency not only causes rickets in children, prevents children from attaining their genetically programmed peak bone mass, but also impacts on adult bone health. Vitamin D deficiency will precipitate and exacerbate osteoporosis in both men and women and cause the painful bone disease osteomalacia. Vitamin D is critically important for muscle function and often patients with non-specific muscle weakness, muscle aches and pains and bone pains either are simply dismissed by their physician or given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. There is strong scientific evidence that many people who receive these diagnoses in fact are suffering from vitamin D deficiency. The new revelation in the vitamin D field is that vitamin D appears to be important for the prevention of type 1 diabetes, hypertension, some autoimmune diseases and most common cancers. It has been known for more than 60 years that people who live at higher latitudes are at increased risk of dying of cancer. It is now recognized that if you live at higher latitudes you have a higher risk of developing and dying of breast, prostate, colon, ovarian and other cancers.
It is also known that if you live at higher latitudes you have a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis as well as hypertension and cardiovascular heart disease. People who live in higher latitudes are more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
The mechanism by which vitamin D is able to have such prolific and important health benefits is now better understood. We now know that vitamin D once made in the skin from exposure to sunlight requires activation in the liver and kidney to its active form 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D not only is responsible for regulating calcium and bone metabolism, but also is one of the most potent hormones for regulating cell growth. It is now recognized that 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D will inhibit cancer cell growth and induce cancer cells to mature into normally functioning cells. It has been suggested that vitamin D acts as a sentinel to regulate cell growth and help prevent cells from becoming cancerous.
1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D controls the production of one of the most important hormones that regulates blood pressure, i.e. the kidney's production of renin. This may be the explanation for why vitamin D deficiency is related to hypertension and coronary artery disease.
It is known that the β-islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin have the vitamin D receptor and respond to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 can increase the production of insulin. 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 also influences the immune system. A study conducted in Finland showed that children who received 2,000 IU of vitamin D from the age of 1 year throughout their childhood resulted in them reducing their risk of developing the most severe form of diabetes, i.e. type 1 diabetes by 80%.
All of these revelations about the health benefits of vitamin D have gone unnoticed both by the health community as well as the lay public. My goal is to help raise the level of consciousness about the importance of having sensible exposure to sunlight and making sure that both children and adults are always vitamin D sufficient. This is why I wrote the book "The UV Advantage". It not only documents with sound science the remarkable benefits of sunlight and vitamin D on human health, but also provides a sensible approach for how to get vitamin D from sun exposure without causing significant damage or increasing risk of skin cancer.