Vitamin D is essential for the health of all living creatures. It aids in the development of bones and teeth, protects against osteoporosis, regulates the heart and ensures proper thyroid function, assists with blood clotting and assures proper absorption of phosphorous and calcium in the digestive tract. Animals, including dogs, can get their daily dose through sunlight synthesis, or from a dietary supplement. In humans and in many animal species, exposure to ultraviolet light in the form of sunshine is enough to produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D to maintain good health. The way it works is, a precursor for vitamin D called 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) exists in the skin and is converted to vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. That vitamin D is then metabolized in the liver and kidneys for use throughout the body. Dogs receive some vitamin D from sunlight exposure, but they have some major differences in their biology that makes dietary vitamin D much more useful to them.
But a report from the American Journal of Veterinary Research is highlighting the very real health problems that occur while living with a lack of sunlight – for animals and humans.
In rabbits (test subjects or pets), low vitamin D levels lead to cardiovascular issues, weak immune systems and poor dental health – similar to humans. Test rabbits growing up in a lab fare worse; vitamin D deficiency is even skewing test results.
Lead researcher, Mark Mitchell said:
We know that vitamin D is important to vertebrates in that it helps with calcium absorption, but it also has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health and immune function. We know of several types of diseases that can develop with vitamin D deficiency. Some of the chronic problems we see are tooth-related.
Dental problems in animals are common in Mitchell's research – his findings have pinpointed the origins of the problem to vitamin D deficiency – an understated issue when it comes to dental health. It's understandable why a lot of animals aren't allowed outdoors (and why they shouldn't be left in the sun), but windows block necessary UVB light. Furthermore, it's unlikely that they get enough from their diets.
In human medicine, they're starting to measure vitamin D levels as part of our routine medical exams. But if we're not doing this with animals that we're using in research, we might be missing a step.
He warns that this problem is undermining research testing and wants to see pets and subjects have a better life.
Fortunately, they discovered that regular exposure to artificial UVB light for just two weeks doubled the rabbits' serum vitamin D levels.&
What can the sun do for you?
Recently, more scientists have come forward emphasizing sunlight to prevent heart disease. It is a metabolism in the body that is not duplicated by supplements. They also find it reduces death from all causes, and they stress that it outweighs any risk because it leads to longer life.
Interestingly, adding vegetables and fruits (like grapes) to your diet provides the perfect “internal sunscreen” while still allowing the good rays. Adding clean animal fats and removing hydrogenated oils can do the same thing!
Vitamin D is best known for its role in calcium metabolism and bone health, but new roles are continually being discovered for it, including roles in mental health, blood sugar regulation, the immune system, and cancer prevention. Yet standard modern advice — take cholesterol-lowering drugs, avoid the sun, eat a low-cholesterol diet — combined with a recommended daily intake of vitamin D that is only a tenth of what many researchers believe to be sufficient all seems to pave the way for widespread vitamin D deficiency.
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