Recently, there’s been a surge in articles on the topic of vitamin D. You’ve undoubtedly read a couple yourself and found out some insightful information about this cluster of prohormones. But D is not actually a vitamin and it has no less than 4 forms, D2 (ergocalciferol), D3 (cholecalciferol), calcifediol (25-hydroxycholecalciferol), and calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol). The latter on the list is the biologically active form of “vitamin” D that our body needs and uses for various vital processes. And when I say vital, I mean stay-healthy-and-alive vital, not just for general perkiness.
Pro- (or pre-) hormones are substances that the body has to convert into a hormone through some pretty complicated processes. In our case, the kernel driving force behind this conversion is exposing your skin to the sun, particularly to UV light. A good 15 minutes of daily, unblocked sunbathing is nothing short of mandatory for you and your children’s health, particularly given the fact that we now spend only half the time we used to outdoors. Blame Fortnite, social media, and unhealthy behavioral patterns. But mostly Fortnite.
In fact, sports nutrition expert Paul Jenkins of Dna Lean, says that supplementing with 1000 IU’s of vitamin D3 daily is an absolute must to maintain our health and immunity. Paul also advocates taking a vitamin D supplement after a meal containing healthy fats. He says that because vitamin D is fat soluble, you need to take it after eating some fats; otherwise, you won’t get the proper absorption.
The same also holds true for athletes and people looking to slim down and tone up for the summer, since Vitamin D is a driving force and a cornerstone of our endocrine system. Without it, we cannot properly recover or build muscle after physical performance. All pain and no gain.
Vitamin D and General Health
Why is sun exposure mandatory? To begin with, we know that people living in areas that get less overall sun exposure are more prone to chronic diseases. As a rule, the further you are from the Equator line, the less sun-time you get, the more likely you are to be overcome with a host of illnesses. This includes multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, heart diseases, some cancers, and tuberculosis. It’s not just statistics, either. The reason why we are able to say this today is because of empirical, medical evidence connecting vitamin D with our well-being. We used to be sun-worshippers for a reason.
One of the main functions this substance has for our body is the absorption and retention of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are instrumental to our bone health. If you don’t have enough of it, you’re exposing yourself to an increased risk of fractures. In addition, we know that too little D makes our immune system be more vulnerable to infections, cardiovascular diseases, as well as a wide range of mental ailments, from mood disorders such as depression to more severe ones, such as psychotic features.
The reason for the latter is the fact that calcitriol is a key regulator of several hormones associated with brain health, including adrenaline, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Due to the critical role it plays in infections, scientists were able to determine that adequate vitamin D levels help reduce cancer cell growth. Physical performance, muscle function, and balance are also interlinked with it. And there’s mounting evidence that male sexual function relies on it as well since calcifediol was shown to be positively associated with high values of total testosterone and medical parameters concerning erectile function.
Although more research is needed in order to fully understand the outstanding impact of D, there’s enough evidence as is to change the way we understand this formerly marginal prehormone.
Sun-powered Physical Performance
Proper health is the backbone of good gains; in fact science teaches us that hormonal imbalances are frequently responsible for inadequate responses to training in both casual bodybuilders and professional athletes. They’re also the number one cause of illness among bodybuilding contestants who use hormones to elicit greater gains in the off-season. Building on the evidence that adequate overall testosterone is significantly associated with healthy levels of vitamin D, we can firmly say that this substance is as important to muscle building as is proper nutrition or adequate sleep.
In fact, the body of studies that evaluate its effects on muscle function and performance dates back almost a century now, even though most investigations are not as rigorous as we’d like them to be. We know that adequate vitamin D intake improved sprint times and vertical jump height in both trained and untrained males. These results were successfully replicated in another investigation, this time with an all-women cohort that was able to both jump higher and faster as a result of D2 supplementation. Furthermore, it has been made obvious that muscle strength and size will go decrease as a result of D-ficiency.
The reason for this is the fact that, at a cellular level, lack of vitamin D obstructs protein synthesis, mitochondrial metabolism, muscle cell contractility, as well as the proper transfer and circulation of calcium. When you’re missing something that is so important to the proper functioning of your body at a molecular level, there’s bound to be negative consequences that follow suit.
Better Quality Recovery
As you may have already inferred from the abnormal cellular activity I’ve just mentioned, this substance is just as important to proper recovery following physical activity as it is to the performance that precedes it. This is mainly achieved through the way in which calcifediol interacts with the inflammatory cytokines Interferon–γ and Interleukin-4, but also with the plasma protein albumin, immediately following intense bouts of exercise.
For now, there is enough evidence to suggest that lack of appropriate amounts of 25(OH)D results in an abnormal inflammatory response, which is both longer than usual, as well as less efficient in terms of cell repair. Needless to say that, although inflammation is the very process through which lean tissue is formed, it can also be its annihilator. Too much of it results in muscle loss, rather than gain.
Furthermore, the supercharged version of D (the 1,25) was shown to directly down-regulate the production of myostatin, which we know is an inhibitory regulator of muscle synthesis. This makes it possible for the cells to locally regenerate faster tissue, while slowing down the rate at which the cells surrounding an injury die. We know there’s even a gene that is responsible for telling our bodies to produce myostatin throughout our life. Without it, real-life cases have shown that human muscles develop at an unprecedented rate. Research into genetic inhibitors of myostatin continues to this day and we’ll likely see more results from it in the near future.
Best Sources of Vitamin D
As I’ve mentioned at the beginning of the article, no less than 15 (ideally 25 to 30) minutes of daily exposure to natural UV light coming from the sun is enough to trigger our very own vitamin D production. The problem is that, in case of prolonged exposure, this radiation can also be incredibly harmful to us, so consider covering up sensible areas if you know you’re going to be out of the shade for long periods of time. Winter sun, however, is not as effective for this process as the summer one is.
In these instances, the best way to avoid Deficiency is through adequate nutrition. Oily fish such as tuna and salmon are the wonder-makers, sitting in at about 2,000 IU for a portion that is only 200 grams. Given how delicious these are, I don’t foresee any problems with eating your way to health. A varied diet that includes healthy fish is also responsible for helping people living in remote northern areas of the world maintain adequate stores of this vital nutrient.
Alternatively, plant-based eaters should aim to increase their consumption of wild mushrooms. When the latter is not that affordable or easy to come by, regularly supplementing with vitamin D should be a fixture of a vegan diet.
Right Under Our Noses
We’ve been looking for endless cures to complex diseases for what must be decades when most of their causes have been staring us point-blank every time we opened a window. It makes sense that the Sun, which is responsible for the maintenance of our entire planetary ecosystem, as well as the development of life as we know it, continues to play a major part in our wellbeing. Ancient cults revered it as it was, while others sought to personify its power and majesty in various anthropomorphic figures, such as the Egyptian Ra, the Greek Helios or the Norse Sunna.
As I’ve shown throughout this article, getting enough vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, as well as from a healthy, balanced diet is instrumental towards our overall health, but also for our ability to gain muscle and recover. For too long we’ve been entranced by the lights on our screens that make us forget about the natural glow of a park on a bright summer’s day. It’s about time we take a step back and re-evaluate how much time we spend outdoors every day.