There may not be a vitamin that has received more press, or been the subject of more intense study of the course of the last decade than vitamin D. In truth, “The sunshine vitamin” isn’t really a vitamin at all – it’s actually considered a hormone – but that doesn’t diminish the fact that obtaining enough vitamin D is absolutely critical for maintaining a seemingly endless list of metabolic processes. Although the main function of vitamin D in the body is to regulate its absorption of calcium and phosphorus, it’s also been discovered that vitamin D has a direct impact on our immune and nervous systems, pancreas, skin, muscles, reproductive organs, and even plays a protective role in the development of colon, skin, and breast cancer. A recent study conducted by renowned vitamin D researcher Dr. Rhonda Patrick that published in the journal Nature found that vitamin D plays a critical role in the activation of over 1,000 different genes as well.
Vitamin D and Blood Glucose Regulation
One of the keys to learning how to build muscle and burn fat to the best of your ability is understanding the roles that blood sugar and insulin play in the body. Insulin is produced in the body by the pancreas, and is released into the bloodstream when rising blood glucose levels are detected. The cells inside the pancreas that signal the body to begin producing insulin are known as the beta cells, and they are directly impacted by vitamin D. Beta cells have vitamin D receptors located directly on them, and they require adequate amounts of vitamin D to be present in the blood in order for them to function properly, unless you’re a type-1 diabetic, in which case an autoimmune response by the body attacks and destroys beta cells. In addition to the insulin producing beta cells, our liver, muscle, and fat calls all contain vitamin D receptors and all play critical roles in blood glucose regulation in their own ways. Observational studies have shown that taking just 1,000 iu’s of vitamin D per day has the ability to reduce insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose, and hemoglobin A1c in diabetics. In the cases of hard training athletes who aren’t faced with the issue insulin resistance, having the ability to improve blood glucose regulation could have a tremendous benefit by helping the body more efficiently shuttle glucose from the blood into muscle cells allowing the body to then mobilize stored body fat for energy needs.
Vitamin D and Heart Health
Nearly 600,000 people die each year in the United States from heart disease. The realities of heart disease are inescapable, and most people know at least one person who has been directly affected to varying degrees. The other inescapable reality is that various aspects of what’s necessary to compete at a high level in bodybuilding elevate risk factors for developing some form of cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D has been shown to be an independent factor in the development of heart disease. A recent study found that men whose vitamin D levels were above or near the 30ng/ml mark had a 44% reduced risk for developing any form of heart disease. Conversely, men who had vitamin D levels below 30ng/ml were up to 64% more likely to suffer from a stroke or heart attack, and twice as likely to develop arterial blockage. As previously mentioned, nearly every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors, and that includes the heart and blood vessels. Vitamin D helps to control the amount of collagen and fibrotic proteins that accumulate which can help prevent stiffening of the vessels and arterials walls of the heart, reducing the risk of developing a blockage in addition to maintaining normal healthy blood flow.
Vitamin D and Cancer
Similar to heart disease, nearly every person has had direct experience, or knows someone who has been directly affected by cancer. Under normal circumstances, cells have a built in mechanism that tells them when it’s time to self-destruct or die known as apoptosis. However, cancer cells aren’t properly regulated, and the built in self-destruct message that would prevent them from spreading never gets sent, allowing them to grow unchecked. Studies show that when cancerous cell cultures are treated in a laboratory setting with vitamin D that the size of tumor cells shrink, and the rate of apoptosis increases. A 2009 study conducted by John’s Hopkins University showed that supplementing with 1,000 iu’s of vitamin D daily (with proper fats, as it’s a fat soluble nutrient) had the ability to slow the spread of prostate cancer in men who already have already been diagnosed in addition to suppressing tumor growth.
Every athlete, from bodybuilding to basketball, is a high performance machine that requires specific things for them to function at optimal levels. However, from a biological perspective, some things are non-negotiable and should be included in the daily routine of not only every athlete, but every person as well. Daily supplementation with vitamin D should be one of those non-negotiable things that every person makes a priority to make a part of their routine. If we look at the benefits of vitamin D from a pure bodybuilding perspective, we see a supplement that has been clinically and empirically proven to be effective for helping to improve blood glucose regulation, which will allow you to burn fat and build muscle more efficiently while costing the monthly equivalent of using two days-worth of whey isolate. From a health perspective, the ability of vitamin D to help decrease inflammation and reduce the chances of developing heart disease and cancer speak for themselves. Every person, athlete or not, should be supplementing daily with 1,000 – 5,000 iu’s of vitamin D to take advantage of the monumental benefits vitamin D has to offer.