Vitamin D : Benefits and Roles in Sports – Part 1

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Article by Dental and Fitness expert Dr. Ana.

Vitamin D has gained a lot of interest in health and scientific field recently. Studies have linked Vitamin D concentration to numerous areas involved in niches like food chemistry, clinical nutrition, stem cell technology and various other fields.

Vitamin D has been suggested to have a beneficial role in skeletal and non-skeletal functions in humans. But recently a more disappointing aspect of it has come under the limelight. Numerous surveys carried out internationally had evidenced the lack of Vitamin D in our diets and its consistently low levels found in routine blood investigations.

Some researchers have used the term epidemic due to the high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency which has been reported in all age groups. 

We at Spobits are presenting our viewers with a short report on the current scenario of Vitamin D, all the stir surrounding it and offering you a scientific conviction.

  • What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is scientifically regarded as a ‘bi-modulator vitamin’ i.e. it is a vitamin which exerts transcriptional changes of genes at the molecular level. Part of its work is mediated through its actions on the parathyroid gland and in regulating calcium homeostasis.

vitamin d

Since it qualifies the definition of both vitamin and hormone(precursors of Vitamin D) its termed as a bimodulator vitamin. Apart from its protective effect on the skeleton by acting on calcium homeostasis and bone formation, there is data that demonstrates poor vitamin D status is associated with decreased muscle strength, poor physical function, muscle discomfort, and aching bones.

Several new studies on athletic populations have shown improved performance, improved VO2 and improved vertical jump on athletes that improved their vitamin D status. These studies showed that athletes with higher vitamin D status >20 – 25 nmol/L had better physical performance and muscle strength.

  • Vitamin D as a prehormone

Vitamin D is unlike any other vitamins. This fat soluble vitamin also happens to be a precursor of hormone.Infact it is one of the oldest pre-hormones known. Early during the evolutionary period, unicellular organisms took advantage of the sun’s energy to produce sugars via photosynthesis, they also started to synthesize Vitamin D.

As life forms evolved in the ocean, which has a high calcium content, and started adapting to land where calcium was stored in the soil, they needed to develop a method to efficiently absorb calcium from the plants and roots that they ate, presumably these organisms when exposed to sunlight produced Vitamin D in their skin which helped in absorption of calcium present in their diet.

This evolutionary change is still retained in humans and for the optimal absorption of dietary calcium, Vitamin D is naturally produced in response to sunlight exposure.
vitamin d
image of one of the vitamin d council

The major source of vitamin D for children and adults is exposure of the skin to ultra violet B a.k.a UVB radiation, present in natural daylight. Dietary sources containing this vitamin albeit not enough are oily fishes such as Salmon (526 IU) and Mackerel (1006 IU) and also Yeast and Mushrooms which can make large quantities of Vitamin D precursors when exposed to ultraviolet irradiation.

However, adults exposed to an amount of sun light that causes a slight pinkness to the skin 24 hours later (1MED) is equivalent to ingesting about 20,000 IU of vitamin D. Such high value of innate and endogenous Vitamin D production imparts the message of its indisputable importance in the human body.

The expression of the machinery required to synthesize vitamin D in normal human tissue seems to be much more widespread than what it was originally thought. Athletes and sportsperson although are frequently exposed to the sun, vitamin D insufficiency rates range between 37% – 83% , it has been reported that athletic performance is ”seasonal”, that it peaks when vitamin D levels peaks and declines as its levels goes down.

This is because cutaneous vitamin D production is absent or is drastically reduced during winter months, athletes who do not supplement or expose themselves to artificial UVB radiation have to rely on diet and summer vitamin D stores.

During the 1930’s in Germany, after studying the effects of an extensive program of irradiation of athletes training at the Sports College of Cologne, including many elite athletes with a ”central sun lamp.”

It was reported that a ”convincing effect” on athletic performance and a significant reduction in chronic pain due to sports injuries was noted. Despite its proven benefits the downhill plunge of Vitamin D in sportsperson and athletes alike have surfaced.

And this data is worrisome, as Vitamin D has been proven to have multiple benefits for the athletes both on and off the field. The New England Journal of Medicine, recently warned that the number of diseases now associated with vitamin D deficiency—including many that afflict athletes—is growing.

BENEFITS of Vitamin D:

  • IMMUNITY

Vitamin D has a direct effect on immune cell function. It stimulates innate (macrophages) immunity by enhancing bacterial killing and it also modulates adaptive (lymphocyte) immunity to minimize inflammation and autoimmune disease.

Preliminary self-report data suggest that Vitamin D supplementation can decrease the incidence of influenza and the common cold. Athletes who participate in prolonged intense training are typically at increased risk for upper respiratory tract infections (URTI).

There has been a correlation well established with intense workout regime and its suppressible effects on the immune system. More data is necessary to show an effect; however, it appears vitamin D intake may influence an athlete’s susceptibility to viruses like the flu and common cold.

In fact Vitamin D was used to treat tuberculosis (TB) in the preantibiotic era and its efficacy in combating the disease is concluded even in recent studies.High Vitamin D levels are well documented in various studies suggesting its positive output in diseases like Type 1 diabetes, Multiple sclerosis, Rheumatiod arthritis & many such diseases.

  • BONE HEALTH

Vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption and fluctuates its uptake upon different ranges in the blood. Bone Density or Bone mineral health is also directly affected by the vitamin concentration. Inadequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D leads to reduced Calcium absorption, increased serum parathyroid hormone concentrations and bone loss.

vitamin d

Optimum bone health is determintal for athletes as even a suboptimal level of it can lead to stress fractures which are a common occuring in sports. Moreover it has also been linked that higher level of Vitamin D lead to better recovery after sustaining bone injuries.

Read More: Human Being and Sugar – Sweet-Bitter Relationship, A Concise Study!
  • INFLAMMATION AND MUSCLE STRENGTH

Although the research in athletes are limited, vitamin D receptors found in the skeletal muscle tissues can help in better muscle recovery and rapid muscle regeneration after a strenous workout. Higher Vitamin D levels affected ”de novo” protein synthesis in muscle, concluding it acts directly on muscle to increase protein synthesis.

Positive effects have also been reported with higher vitamin D in blood concentration and sprints. Two years of treatment with even a low dose of vitamin D 1000 IU of ergocalciferol per day significantly increased muscle strength, doubled the mean diameter, and tripled the percentage of Type II muscle fibers in the functional limbs.

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Sports related inflammation or chronic pain associated with sports injuries were found to be lower for example in long distance runners,professional ballet dancers and American football players who were given vitamin D supplementation of 2000 IU/day.

Vitamin D may also play a role in decreasing our risk for certain types of cancer, as well as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. It can even help us lose or maintain weight.

…to be contd
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