Many athletes have integrated cold therapy into their wellness routines. Ice baths are becoming more popular and accessible. But there’s one nutrient out there with a ton of benefits that often gets forgotten—vitamin D. It plays a crucial role in our body’s well-being, both physical and mental. You may think you’re getting enough of it, but you’d be surprised at how common vitamin D deficiencies are.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone, meaning it’s absorbed and transported in our bodies similarly to fats. We get it from our diet and through sun exposure—which is why it is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.”
Over time, the body stores vitamin D in fat cells. Then, when it needs to use the vitamin, it’s mostly up to the kidneys and liver to metabolize it—into 25OHD (calcidiol) and 1,25(OH)2D (calcitriol), the active forms of the vitamin.
One of the best-known jobs of vitamin D is helping with the absorption of calcium. Without vitamin D, it’s extremely hard for the gut to absorb any calcium ingested in a diet. Thus, vitamin D deficiencies often translate into calcium deficiencies, even in calcium-rich diets.
For a long time, physicians were only aware of the relationship between vitamin D and calcium. However, recent studies have found vitamin D receptors (VDR) in cells that are not involved in mineral homeostasis. Namely, in the placenta, lungs, testes, breasts, and lymphocytes, among other organs. Thus, the medical field now accepts that vitamin D plays a much more varied role than simply regulating calcium levels in the blood.
6 Crucial Vitamin D Benefits
Looking to boost your health? Here are six benefits of vitamin D.
1. Promotes strong, healthy bones
Our bones are constantly being built and rebuilt. If calcium is the building block of our bones, vitamin D is the shuttle that gets it to work. Studies show that getting adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D is key for good bone health.
2. May reduce the risk of auto-immune disorders
Studies done with multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have shown that vitamin D could protect nerves from damage, thus keeping this illness—along with other auto-immune disorders—at bay. It may also stave off dementia and other diseases caused by the degeneration of nerves.
3. Staves off Type-2 diabetes
Scientists in the Diabetes Journal found that getting enough vitamin D can keep type-2 diabetes away (or slow its progression) in people predisposed to it. Being deficient in the key nutrient can impair how the body produces and releases insulin.
4. May protect against inflammation
Vitamin D has been shown to lessen the effects of inflammation. The peer-reviewed PLOS One journal published that vitamin D may protect against auto-immune diseases—such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.
This is another benefit of cold therapy, as it can alleviate pain from chronic inflammation. If you have frequent flare-ups, ice baths could improve your quality of life.
5. Lessens symptoms of depression and anxiety
Chronic anxiety and vitamin D deficiencies are both on the rise. But the good news is that vitamin D can be a non-invasive way to cope with the symptoms. A 2020 study on vitamin D-deficient patients living with major depressive disorder shows that getting enough of this vitamin can stave off negative emotions.
There is also scientific evidence showing that ice baths can also make depressive and anxiety disorders more manageable. Together, vitamin D and ice baths can be helpful holistic combined tools to support mental health and wellness.
6. Helps with muscle recovery and performance
A 2021 study showed that vitamin D can make muscle recovery easier for athletes. It may also boost muscle performance, reducing cramps and twitching, which is why many athletes track their vitamin D intake.
Another popular workout boost is cold immersion therapy. Ice baths bring athletes a lot of benefits, including relaxing muscles and reducing lactic acid build-up post-exercise.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is:
- 600 IU (or 15 mcg) for adults 19 and older
- 800 IU (or 20 mcg) for adults over the age of 70
Knowing Your Vitamin D Levels
The best way to know your vitamin D levels is to get tested. Ask your healthcare provider to order the test or use the services of a telehealth company.
Over-supplementation is a real problem for some vitamins, including vitamin D. Since it is fat-soluble, the body can’t eliminate excess amounts through sweating or urine (like it can with vitamin C, for example). Thus, there are adverse side effects to taking too much of it. Mainly, vitamin D overdose leads to a build-up of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia). Although symptoms of vitamin D toxicity are rare, they include nausea, confusion, apathy, recurrent vomiting, abdominal pain, dehydration, and increased thirst.
Where to Get Vitamin D
You can get vitamin D in three ways.
Our skin can synthesize vitamin D when exposed to the sun. How long you need to catch those rays depends on your skin color and where you are in the world. On average, we need anywhere from 9 minutes to 25 minutes of sun exposure, with no sunscreen.
Some foods are naturally rich in vitamin D:
- Fish liver oils
- The flesh of fatty fish (for example, salmon, mackerel, and tuna)
- Various kinds of mushrooms
Others are fortified with vitamin D:
- Enriched breakfast cereal
- Fortified cow and plant-based milk
- Enriched fruit juices
You’ll find two kinds of supplements: vitamin D2 and D3. The former is made from plant sources, while the latter often comes from animal byproducts. Our guts absorb both well, but vitamin D3 may be slightly more effective.
What is Vitamin D Deficiency?
- People with dark skin: more melanin means lower absorption of vitamin D through sun exposure.
- People in high latitudes: in the winter, vitamin D production through sun exposure comes to a near stop.
- Older adults: it’s often hard for the elderly to meet their increased vitamin D needs.
Vitamin D deficiencies are often silent. Unless you get tested, you might not know you’re lacking this nutrient. Only the most severe cases show any symptoms at all: fatigue, muscle tremors, and a propensity for bone fractures.
If you’re vitamin D deficient, you won’t reap any of the benefits this nutrient has to offer. And you may be at greater risk for some bone problems, too. Rickets (a childhood disease) and osteomalacia (the softening of bones in adults) are both caused by low levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D and Ice Baths Go Hand in Hand
If you’re looking to get the most out of your health journey, you should pair vitamin D with Ice Barrel’s cold immersion therapy. Both promote good muscle recovery, fight against inflammation, and help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. A multi-pronged approach to wellness is the way to go.
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