In Focus: Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

Why is sunshine so important for our health and wellbeing? This is because we need it to synthesise an important feel-good nutrient called vitamin D. Every single cell in your body has a vitamin D receptor and this is why a vitamin D deficiency can affect us as a whole. Being low in vitamin D is one of the core reasons for weak bones and teeth, a poor immune system and even a low mood. Our kids in the UK are being affected more than we think, and a condition called rickets is on the rise which can cause weak and soft bendy bones and stunted growth is due to lack of vitamin D.

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Why is vitamin D supplementation so important?

Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins we may need to supplement, as it is virtually impossible to eat enough of foods containing the vitamin to combat a marked deficiency. The majority of vitamin D our bodies need is normally produced by our skin’s exposure to the sun; however we are being exposed less and less due to a number of factors including less time outdoors and the lack of sunshine particularly in the winter months.

Vitamin D is essential for ensuring calcium enters the bones. It helps strengthen teeth and bones whilst also ensuring a strong immune system helping your body protect itself from colds and a growing list of auto-immune diseases. These include MS, diabetes and a growing number of internal cancers including breast cancer. Vitamin D is also particularly important for keeping a positive and upbeat mood and low levels have been linked with depression and may also affect learning and neuro-developmental difficulties.

According to NICE statistics, over 10 million people in the UK alone may be low in vitamin D. In the summer months, 8% of adults aged 19-64 were found with low vitamin D; while in the winter, 39% were low. That’s over a third of people. In children aged 4 to 10, the numbers were 2% in summer and 32% in winter. These are worrying statistics.

How do I ensure I get enough Vitamin D?

The main source of vitamin D is from our skin’s exposure to the UVB rays from the sun, but in the UK, it is difficult to get enough to keep our levels up. Even during the sunniest days of the winter, the sun is not producing the right wavelength for us to make vitamin D. Thos with dark skin find it harder to uptake vitamin D, and they are more suscpetible to deficiency than those with paler skin colour.

A number of foods also naturally contain vitamin D including whole milk, mushrooms, eggs and oily fish including salmon. The herbs rosemary and sage also help with uptake so use these liberally in your cooking. Oily fish is the best source of dietary vitamin D, however, even for those who ensure this is a daily staple, that still may not be enough as there may be metabolic or nutritional issues hampering the uptake.

For instance, it is important to have enough cholesterol in the body as vitamin D uses cholesterol in the skin to make vitamin D from sunlight. So if you are struggling to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D you might want to check to see if your total cholesterol levels are much below 4.0mmol. Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, butter and milk products all contain natural cholesterol.

Being overweight or obese can also be a factor, and lower levels of vitamin D in obese kids have been linked to less sun exposure and not enough dietary intake. Excess adipose tissue can also compete with uptake of vitamin D which is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is therefore thought that obese children may require 2 to 3 times the dose of vitamin D to achieve the same blood Vitamin D levels as children who are slim.

Magnesium is also another essential nutrient needed for the uptake of vitamin D and magnesium can be found in foods such as whole grains, dark chocolate, leafy greens, nuts, bananas, avocadoes and raspberries, and legumes including black beans, chickpeas and red kidney beans.

The UK Department of Health has therefore recommended that everyone living in the UK should take a vitamin D supplement from October to April. 

There are a number of vitamin D supplements available, we have found the oral sprays and drops particularly good as they are absorbed directly via the soft tissue in the mouth, providing better supplementation than traditional tablets and capsules and they’re super easy to take, particularly for children.

Top Tip: Rosemary and sage help the body with uptake of vitamin D so add these wonderful herbs into your meals whenever possible.

How much should I take?

Public Health England (PHE) recommends that everyone take daily vitamin D to protect bone and muscle health during autumn and winter. This advice, which sees the supplement’s advice broaden from just ‘at risk’ groups to everyone is based on the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following its review of the evidence on vitamin D and health.

It must also be pointed out that many people carry VDR (Vitamin D Receptor) genetic SNPS which can render them a poor absorber or even a super absorber of Vitamin D. This is why some people need high levels of vitamin D and sunshine to be well and have optimal levels of vitamin D, where are others do not need much support other than summer sunshine.

However, there is evidence that some people including children might benefit from higher dosages of vitamin D and this is where a Nutritional Therapist or Naturopath can arrange vitamin D testing, monitor you closely and give the right advice to support you in the long term.

Public Health England vitamin D recommendations

PHE recommends everyone in the general population aged 4 years and older to have 10 micrograms (400UI) of vitamin D daily, throughout the year. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women and population groups at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. For all infants from birth to 1 year of age 8.5 to 10 micrograms (340-400 IU/d) of vitamin D per day is recommended; however children who have more than 500ml of milk (including baby milk formula) every day do not need any additional vitamin D.

So, it’s clear that our bodies need sufficient levels of vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth, immunity and mood. If you are concerned you or your family are not getting enough, the best bet is to get a simple finger prick blood test organised through a practitioner and to be monitored regularly. A blood test can determine your current levels, so you know what level of supplements you need to take to ensure you have a strong and healthy family all year round.

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