Vitamin D-3 is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential for bone health. Deficiencies in vitamin D-3 can cause severe symptoms. Dietary sources of vitamin D are limited, so it is important to supplement your diet if you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
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Vitamin D-3 has numerous functions that include regulation of levels of calcium and phosphorous in the body. Calcium and phosphorous are required for bone formation and also for proper functioning of the nervous system and other body systems. Vitamin D-3 plays a key role in regulating absorption of calcium from food, excretion of calcium by the kidneys and incorporation of calcium into bones. Several other important processes in the body are also regulated by vitamin D-3, including cell growth, immune functions, blood pressure and insulin secretion.
A major source of vitamin D-3 is from sun exposure. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet-B radiation, or UVB, synthesis of vitamin D-3 is triggered. Current research suggests that roughly 10 minutes of sunlight each day creates enough vitamin D-3 to avoid deficiencies. In areas of the planet that do not receive as much sunlight, dietary sources of vitamin D-3 are important to avoid deficiency. Foods that contain high levels of vitamin D-3 include eggs, fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, and fish liver oils. Milk is often fortified with vitamin D-3, as are many breakfast cereals and certain breads.
Vitamin D-3 deficiency can cause severe symptoms. Without vitamin D-3, the body cannot absorb enough calcium from food, and calcium is mobilised from the bones to maintain enable functioning of essential nervous systems. Children who are chronically vitamin D-3 deficient develop a condition called rickets, in which low calcium levels cause skeletal deformities and weak, soft bones. In adults, vitamin D-3 deficiency can cause the bones to become soft and painful. Vitamin D-3 deficiency can also result in muscle pain and weakness.
An overdose of vitamin D-3 can cause equally serious side effects. Overdose typically results from vitamin D-3 supplements rather than sun exposure. Excess levels of vitamin D3 cause too much calcium to be absorbed into the blood stream. High levels of calcium can lead to calcification, or hardening, of blood vessels or organs, leading to heart disease and other organ damage. Kidney stones can also develop from the excess calcium. Vitamin D toxicity can also cause several non-specific symptoms, including heart arrhythmia, excess urine production, unintended weight loss and anorexia.
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