Vitamin D, a fat-soluble prohormone, is endogenously synthesized in response to sunlight or taken from dietary supplements. Since vitamin D receptors are present in most tissues and cells in the body, the mounting understanding of the role of vitamin D in humans indicates that it does not only play an important role in the musculoskeletal system, but has beneficial effects elsewhere as well. This review summarizes the metabolism of vitamin D, the research regarding the possible risk factors leading to vitamin D deficiency, and the relationships between vitamin D deficiency and numerous illnesses, including rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia, muscle weakness and falls, autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, and neurological disorders. The system-wide effects of vitamin D and the mechanisms of the diseases are also discussed. Although accumulating evidence supports associations of vitamin D deficiency with physical and mental disorders and beneficial effects of vitamin D with health maintenance and disease prevention, there continue to be controversies over the beneficial effects of vitamin D. Thus, more well-designed and statistically powered trials are required to enable the assessment of vitamin D’s role in optimizing health and preventing disease.
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