Summer is truly over. (It was a good one!)
It is suggested that 1 in 6 Britons will be severely deficient in vitamin D, otherwise known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’.
This doesn’t include the vast majority of us that will be low or insufficient in the vitamin after a long period of time with very little sun.
Most of a person’s supply is made in the body through direct exposure to sunlight, this is why in Winter it is so hard to keep your levels at a sufficient level.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that comes in two main forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
UVB rays from natural sunlight help to increase the levels of D3 in the body, and a Caucasian person’s body creates 20,000 IU of vitamin D by sunbathing for 20 minutes.
Caucasians whose skin has less melanin (pigment) in it synthesises vitamin D six times more quickly than darker skinned people.
Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all it acts as a steroid hormone and is created in the human body from cholesterol.
The vitamin D3 is carried to the liver and kidneys where an enzyme converts it to an active form.
This enzyme is also found in other parts of the body including the brain, skin, colon and more, proof that the body needs vitamin D throughout to do all of its jobs properly.
Vitamin D only lasts in the liver for 3 weeks, meaning that it needs to be replenished frequently.
What do we need vitamin D for?
It is necessary for normal bone mineralisation and growth, the maintenance of muscle strength and coordination, overall cardiovascular health and for balanced immune function.
The Role Of Vitamin D In The Body
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for the body and it plays a vital role in many functions of the body.
It is effective in helping to prevent prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity and depression.
Vitamin D also helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphate from the foods that we eat.
This shows why vitamin D is so important in its role for bone health.
People who have inadequate levels of vitamin D in the body have been shown in many studies to be more closely linked to obesity.
The results of the studies show that those who are overweight seem to be less able to convert vitamin D to the active form, meaning that the vitamin D isn’t doing its job properly in the body.
There is also a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer according to various studies.
Studies in both animals and humans have shown that having enough vitamin D in the body helps the body to prevent and fight cancer more effectively.
Vitamin D stops the growth of new blood vessels and has anti-inflammatory effects, and it activates special genes in the body that kill off bad cells, all of which help the body with fighting and preventing cancer.
Another interesting fact to note is that as we get older, our skin is less able to convert sunlight into vitamin D, meaning deficiency is more likely as we age.
Interestingly, vitamin D is created naturally by the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
It is almost impossible to get the vitamin D that your body needs for all its functions from your diet.
So it is essential that you get lots of sunlight to allow your body to generate the vitamin D that it needs.
The light from the sun that you need can’t penetrate glass, and so you won’t get enough by being in the home or the car you have to actually get out and about and have the sun’s rays penetrating your skin directly to be able to benefit from it.
The further away from the equator you live, the more sunlight exposure you need to allow your body to generate adequate levels of vitamin D.
Certain foods are rich in vitamin D, including fatty fish like salmon and tuna, eggs, meat and mushrooms.
There are also now many foods available on the shelves that are fortified with vitamin D due to the high numbers of people who are deficient.
However, no food source of vitamin D is anywhere near as good for getting adequate vitamin D levels as the levels created by the body from getting enough natural sunlight exposure.
At our health retreat in Gozo, the sister island of Malta we are bathed in sun for 10 months of the year.
- Slow or abnormal bone growth in children
- Muscle weakness and aches
- Frequent and recurring colds, respiratory tract infections and flu
- General lethargy, tiredness
- Insomnia, nervousness
- Burning in the mouth or throat
- Frequent bone breaks or fractures
Due to vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption, bone strength and quality can also be a sign of vitamin D status, this can be checked with a Doctor.
The recommended dose of vitamin D per day is 10ug for adults and children, and 5ug pregnant and lactating women.
This equates to around 15-20 mins or direct sunshine per day.
It can be toxic at high levels when ingested as an exogenous source, the upper limit being 50ug.
Although sunlight is the best source for our bodies to produce vitamin D endogenously, there are a few foods that contain vitamin D:
- fatty fish like sardines and salmon
- egg yolk
- liver and butter
Vegans are advised to supplement with vitamin if they lack exposure to sunlight, as they are unable to get vitamin D from dietary sources.
Things to consider when taking a vitamin D supplement:
- Vitamin D is fat soluble meaning that it is absorbed better when eaten with a small amount of fat. For example, taking your capsule with a spoon of coconut oil
- Always choose the D3 version of vitamin D as it is more readily absorbed by the body.
- Anyone with known liver or kidney disease will experience a marked reduction in the ability to absorb vitamin D.
There are 3 types of people that are in general, more at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency:
The elderly, as there are less likely and able to get outside in the sunlight
- Populations with dark skin, the synthesis of vitamin D is less effective the darker the pigment of the skin
- People that tend to wear more clothes and are covered up, preventing them from being exposed to sunlight
- People that are following a very high animal protein intake diet, can lead to issues of clearance and formation of the vitamin.