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Vitamin D3 and Bone Health
The major biologic function of vitamin D is to help support normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to support the formation and maintainance of strong teeth and bones. It functions by increasing the uptake of calcium from the intestine through interaction with the parathyroid glands in controlling bone resorption and serum calcium levels.
The skeleton is the body's reservoir of calcium and provides calcium through resorption of mineral when serum levels of this essential element drop. Vitamin D also increases reabsorption of phosphate by the kidney tubule, and may directly affect the osteoblast, the cell which forms bone.
Rickets is a bone disease that affects children who are vitamin D deficient. It is defined as the failure of the osteoid to calcify. It causes progressive softening and weakening of the bones' structure. This softening results in bones becoming flexible and gradually molded by forces such as bearing weigh exerted on them. Children with rickets may not grow to their full potential and may develope deformities of the body structure such as knonk-knees or bowed legs.
At the early part of the 20th century, rickets remained one of the most devastating health consequences of the Industrial Revolution. It was estimated that more than 90 percent of children in Northern Europe and 80 percent of children in Boston and New York City showed evidence of this bone deforming disease. As early as 1822 Sniadecki identified the importance of sun exposure for preventing growth retardation and skeletal deformities associated with rickets noting that children living in the inner city of Warsaw had a high incidence of rickets whereas children living in adjacent rural areas did not.
This was followed by the insightful observations in 1889 by Palm that children living in London and Glasgow were plagued with rickets, while children who lived in Asia and India were free of the disease. He recommended that children from the inner cities be exposed to sunlight and encouraged sunbathing as a preventive and treatment strategy. At that time however, the medical community, found it inconceivable that skin exposure to sunlight could have any beneficial effect for bone health.
In the 1930s, public health initiatives in the USA, recommended fortifying every cup of commercially sold milk with 100 iu's of vitamin D.
This fortification program is still in effect today, and the incidence of rickets in the USA is very low.
Osteomalacia is basically the same disease as rickets but occurring in adults.
Seniors in northern climates and adults, who do not receive direct sunlight for at least 45 minutes per weekk are most susceptible.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by fragile bones, resulting in an increased risk of bone fractures. It is estimated that over 25 million adults in the United States have, or are at risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is most common in post menopausal women.
Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Arthritis and its associated symptoms occur because of the breakdown of cartilage in the joints.
Just as vitamin D may help support healthy bones, it may also help support the maintainance of healthy cartilage.
There are many ongoing research studies, looking into the relationship between
low intakes of vitamin D and the risk of getting arthritis. The research is very promising.