A new study shows that vitamin D, the "Sunshine Vitamin" that helps build stronger bones, can also regulate blood glucose levels and immune and vascular function, especially among children.

Vitamin D, which is called the Sunshine Vitamin because it's produced in our skin in response to sunlight, assists the absorption and utilization of calcium. Furthermore, it's a fat-soluble vitamin and includes vitamins D1, D2 and D3.

Few foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, such as canned salmon with bones and egg yolks. We can also reap vitamin D from fortified foods. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU or 15 micrograms a day for most adults.

Apart from needing calcium to build and maintain strong bones, our bodies need calcium for our heart, muscles and nerves to function properly. Some studies suggest calcium along with vitamin D might protect against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Evidence to back these claims up aren't definitive, however, but a new study seems to back up these health claims.

A recent study conducted by the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh reveals supplementing with vitamin D can improve heart health in children. This hospital is the only one in Southwestern Pennsylvania dedicated solely to the care of infants, children and young adults.

The study saw researchers monitor 225 children (ages 10 to 18), who were deficient in vitamin D but were otherwise healthy. The children were divided into three groups, with each group receiving a different amount of vitamin D. The first group took 600 IU (International Units) daily. This amount is the current recommended daily dietary allowance. The second group took 1,000 IU every day, while the third group took 2,000 IU each day. Participants were monitored for six months.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency can cause a variety of ailments to the body. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

After six months, researchers found the children taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day had improved insulin sensitivity and had a reduced fasting blood glucose level. The children taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day also had lower blood pressure.

“Current recommendations for taking vitamin D are pegged to optimal bone health, but we know vitamin D is involved in more than building healthy bones," Kumaravel Rajakumar, lead study author, said. "It can turn on and off genes that direct our cells to regulate blood glucose levels, and immune and vascular function.”

The study noted improved insulin sensitivity, reduced fasting blood glucose and lower blood pressure levels due to vitamin D supplementation can help reduce the risk of diabetes and also improve heart health.

In a previous study, researchers discovered that children, from ages 6 to 18, born with low levels of vitamin D had about a 60 percent higher risk of elevated systolic blood pressur. Children that experienced persistently low levels throughout their childhood were at double the risk of elevated systolic blood pressure between ages 3 and 18.

Research also shown high doses of vitamin D supplementation can help children gain weight and develop muscle and bone health, along with a healthy immune system.