A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal described how professional and college sports teams think they have found a cutting-edge advantage in one of the most basic nutrients: vitamin D. With scientific research having proven that an optimum supply of vitamin D is a crucial factor for our health, and with deficiency well-known to be widespread, the sporting world’s newfound advocacy of the “sunshine vitamin” follows the growing trend of health experts recommending a supplementary intake for everyone to support cellular metabolism.
As the Wall Street Journal article describes, with millions of dollars at stake elite sports teams are now monitoring the health of their players more closely than ever. In the world of professional sport, winning trophies is directly dependent on maximizing the performance of players and ensuring they stay injury-free. Significantly therefore, towards this goal, teams in all U.S. major leagues, some college athletic departments and the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams are all now believed to have started tracking their players’ vitamin D levels and intake.
But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from vitamin D. A recent pilot study from Scotland has shown that even in ordinary people, taking vitamin D supplements can improve exercise performance and lower blood pressure. Carried out by researchers from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference in 2015, the study notes that volunteers given 2000IU of vitamin D for two weeks in its highly bioavailable D3 form, as cholecalciferol, were able to cycle for longer with less exertion than those given placebo pills. Commenting on the results, researcher Dr Raquel Revuelta Iniesta said they suggest that “taking vitamin D supplements can improve fitness levels and lower cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure.”
Scientific evidence suggests that, as we get older, supplementation with vitamin D becomes even more important. As many elderly people have learned over the years when visiting their doctors, conventional medicine essentially sees the loss of muscle strength that occurs with ageing as untreatable and inevitable. After the age of 30, human beings typically lose 3-8 percent of their muscle mass each decade. Over time this results in a decrease in muscle strength and a consequent increase in falls and mortality. However, a recent study of postmenopausal women from Brazil has shown that taking vitamin D3 supplements can significantly increase muscle strength, protect against muscle loss and reduce the risk of falls. Impressively, the researchers observed these benefits in women even as late as 12 or more years after menopause.
For men, a study carried out by researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina in the United States last year found that vitamin D supplements may slow down or reverse the progression of low-grade prostate cancer tumors. With one in six men now expected to develop prostate cancer in their lifetimes, the study adds to the growing scientific evidence that natural approaches are effective in controlling this disease.
Despite the clear importance and proven benefits of vitamin D, deficiency has become a worldwide problem. In the United States and Canada, for example, vitamin D deficiency is well-known to be widespread. In Europe, levels in the blood have been shown to be low in 50% to 70% of the population. Pregnant Arab women have an “extraordinarily high prevalence” of vitamin D deficiency, whilst India is also now home to a growing epidemic of it. Even in Australia, where people enjoy an outdoor lifestyle with plentiful sunshine, it is significant that the incidence of vitamin D deficiency has still managed to reach crisis levels.
Given its numerous proven benefits, and the high likelihood of deficiency wherever in the world we live, it is important that we all take steps to ensure we are getting a sufficient supply of vitamin D to ensure optimum health.