Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin is often seen as the answer to treating and preventing a variety of ailments and diseases. This article should give you a bit more of an understanding of why it might be important to you. Vitamin D is produced from the skin when it gets exposed to UVB rays from the sunlight and helps with important functions within the body…
In the UK this can be sometime difficult to get! The best months for are from May to October when UVB levels are highest. Vitamin D is also found in our diet and supplements can be taken too, to make sure we have enough in our bodies.
Why is Vitamin D important?
It’s discussed so often, and when people find symptoms that they can’t explain, often a ‘lack of sunlight’ is blamed, and the response is to buy supplements. The Doctor Service has summarised the most important points.
Strong and healthy bones
Vitamin D is responsible for regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphate, which are important building blocks for strong and healthy bones. Along with Calcium and Phosphate, it helps to prevent serious medical conditions such as ricketts and osteomalacia. For pregnant women, adequate stores ensure better bone health of newborns.
Immune System and Fighting Infections
Vitamin D alerts our ‘killer’ white blood cells to attack unwanted infections in our bodies.
Chronic Disease and Cancer Prevention
Vitamin D has been shown to be protective against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. There are significant studies which show people with higher levels have a lower incidence of bowel cancer which is the 4th commonest cancer in the UK.
However, it’s important to realise that low Vitamin D levels aren’t necessarily the cause, as those with higher levels could be living different lifestyles that also reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
Vitamin D helps to regulate mood and improve feelings of low mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder, in which lethargy and low mood tend to be predominant symptoms, occur during the winter months and have a significant association with low levels.
How much do I need?
This has caused much controversy and at the moment there is no recommended intake for those aged 4-65 years. It is assumed that the sunlight we get is enough to provide adequate levels of vitamin D.
However, you may be at risk of deficiency if you:
- Have limited exposure to the sun
- Have darker skin
- Are pregnant, or breastfeeding
- Are a young women or a child
- Are over 65
At risk groups require 10 micrograms/day.
It is important to also get vitamin D from our diet, and not just rely on the sun. Top food sources for vitamin D include salmon, tuna, and cheese. Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D such as bread, milk and cereals.
Watch out for ‘D-ficiency’
According to the NDNS*, approximately 20% of UK adults are ‘D-ficient’.
If you have been experiencing tiredness, aches and pains, you may have ‘D-ficiency’. You may have trouble walking up the stairs or getting up and generally feeling run down. It may be worth getting your Vitamin D tested, to see if this is contributing to your symptoms.
Daily supplements can be taken to help restore levels of vitamin D, and in some at risk groups, i.e. those with darker skin tones, you should take a low dose supplement of vitamin D especially over the winter months to help prevent becoming D-ficient. You can buy Vitamin D supplements from our partner online pharmacy, Chemist.net.
Take home messages
- Be aware of feeling D-ficient!
- Make sure you get enough sunlight and a diet rich in vitamin D
*National Diet and Nutrition Survey
- Laird, E., Ward, M., McSorley, E., Strain, J. J., & Wallace, J. (2010). Vitamin d and bone health; potential mechanisms. Nutrients, 2(7), 693-724.
- Holick, M. F. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1678S-1688S.
- Finglas PM, Roe MA, Pinchen HM, Berry R, Church SM, Dodhia SK, Farron-Wilson M & Swan G (2015) McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, Seventh summary edition, Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry
- Gandini S, Boniol M, Haukka J, Byrnes G, Cox B, Sneyd MJ, Mullie P & Autier P (2011) Meta-analysis of observational studies of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and colorectal, breast and prostate cancer and colorectal adenoma. Int J Cancer 128, 1414-1424.