Vitamin D is one of the oldest hormones that have been made in the earliest life forms for over 750 million years. Phytoplankton, zooplankton, and most plants and animals that are exposed to sunlight have the capacity to make vitamin D. Vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy skeleton from birth until death. The major function of vitamin D is to maintain calcium homeostasis. It accomplishes this by increasing the efficiency of the intestine to absorb dietary calcium. When there is inadequate calcium in the diet to satisfy the body's calcium requirement, vitamin D communicates to the osteoblasts that signal osteoclast precursors to mature and dissolve the calcium stored in the bone. Vitamin D is metabolized in the liver and then in the kidney to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)(2)D]. 1,25(OH)(2)D receptors (VDR) are present not only in the intestine and bone, but in a wide variety of other tissues, including the brain, heart, stomach, pancreas, activated T and B lymphocytes, skin, gonads, etc. 1,25(OH)(2)D is one of the most potent substances to inhibit proliferation of both normal and hyperproliferative cells and induce them to mature. It is also recognized that a wide variety of tissues, including colon, prostate, breast, and skin have the enzymatic machinery to produce 1,25(OH)(2)D. 1,25(OH)(2)D and its analogs have been developed for treating the hyperproliferative disease psoriasis. Vitamin D deficiency is a major unrecognized health problem. Not only does it cause rickets in children, osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults, but may have long lasting effects. Chronic vitamin D deficiency may have serious adverse consequences, including increased risk of hypertension, multiple sclerosis, cancers of the colon, prostate, breast, and ovary, and type 1 diabetes. There needs to be a better appreciation of the importance of vitamin D for overall health and well being.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.