Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin

Family in the sunshine

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and we get most of ours from sunlight exposure. However, it’s staggering to know that over half of adults in the UK have a Vitamin D insufficiency…

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a vitamin which we can only make through exposure to sunlight and we can also acquire it via our diet. It regulates the absorption of calcium from the food we consume, is involved in our immune system and is suggested to play multiple roles in different types of diseases. With Vitamin D being so important, it’s staggering to know that over half of adults in the UK have a Vitamin D insufficiency.

Why is Vitamin D so important?

It has long been known that Vitamin D is essential for growth and strong bones. Severe deficiencies result in rickets and osteomalacia. However, over the last 5 years our understanding of other benefits has started to emerge.

Vitamin D plays an important role in cell communication in almost all tissue types in the body, so it is not surprising that deficiencies can result in such a range of different health problems. Research has linked deficiency with many other conditions, such as musculoskeletal problems, infections, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, brain dysfunction (eg depression, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s), diabetes and cancer.

What are the Symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency?

Many people have no symptoms at all, or just complain of a general aches and tiredness. However, others can report weakness, tender bones, muscle or joint pain, headaches, depression, fatigue, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is not an easy deficiency to spot, so the best plan is to ensure you are getting enough in the first place!

Are You at Risk?

Given the statistics, the chances of being vitamin D deficient are fairly high. However, there are some groups that are at a particularly high risk, including pregnant and breast feeding women, children under 5, adults over 65, people with darker skin, those with low sun exposure, and people who are obese.

What can You Do?

Sunlight (UVB rays) reacts with cholesterol in your skin to make vitamin D. Direct exposure to a large area of skin on a regular basis is needed to make sufficient quantities. However, for 6 months of the year (October to April) the sun in the UK is not strong enough to give us the vitamin D, so supplementation is key. Eating fresh whole foods is a good start, but this will rarely provide more than 5-10% of your requirements. Vitamin D supplements are good, cheap and readily available. In the vast majority of cases, this is the simple solution. If you do opt for a vitamin D supplement, please remember that you also need to boost your intake of vitamin K2 through food and/or a supplement.

 

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