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Vitamin D – The super sunshine vitamin

What is the role of vitamin D in the body?

Vitamin D plays many essential roles within the body. It supports a healthy immune system and plays a key role in many biological systems including the heart, lungs, kidneys, bones, brain and muscles. It is also involved in the functions of the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems. The latest research indicates that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a myriad of illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart attack, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, depression and cognitive impairment.

How does vitamin D help my bones?

Vitamin D is vital for keeping bones strong and healthy and promoting bone growth; it is essential for calcium absorption and bone mineralisation. Low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of bone breakage as well as developing bone diseases such as osteoporosis, osteopenia and osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children.

How do I get adequate levels of vitamin D?

Vitamin D is technically a hormone rather than a vitamin. It is synthesised when the skin is exposed to UVB radiation through sunlight which is why it is often referred to as ‘the sunshine vitamin’.  Whilst the most effective way of getting vitamin D is through sun exposure, it can also be obtained through diet and supplementation.

Can I get vitamin D through diet?

Getting an adequate amount of vitamin D through diet alone is difficult, but not completely impossible. Foods with high Vitamin D content include animal products such as seafood and eggs as well as dairy products which are often fortified with vitamin D. Mushrooms are the only plant-based (vegan-friendly) source of vitamin D: like humans, they make their own vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.

How much vitamin D do I need?

The amount of vitamin D produced by the body varies from person to person. Maximal production of vitamin D is achieved after around 10-15minutes of sunlight exposure per day during the summer months. However, this is dependent upon skin pigmentation – individuals with darker skin have a higher concentration of melanin and require more exposure than someone with paler skin.

When taking vitamin D supplements, the dosage is recommended between 600-2,000 IU per day which is dependent upon factors such as age, lifestyle, season, dietary habits and state of health. Many people choose to take supplements throughout the winter months where sun exposure is limited and time spent outdoors is reduced. It’s advisable to seek advice from a medical professional about the specific requirements and dosage levels of vitamin D, especially where there are underlying health concerns.

Am I at risk of vitamin D deficiency throughout winter?

There are many factors that increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency including age (our ability to make vitamin D reduces as we age), country of residence as well as skin type. Ironically, humans need more vitamin D in the winter months to help protect against and fight infections, but this is the time when we spend more time indoors and there is less sunshine and our ability to make vitamin D is reduced.

Who is at risk of vitamin D Deficiency?

A deficiency of vitamin D can occur when adequate levels are not obtained through diet, UVB exposure and health and medical conditions:

  • People who follow a vegan diet may have an increased risk, as vitamin D is mostly obtained through animal products (other than mushrooms).
  • Studies have shown that people with darker skin have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency as they require more exposure to sunlight in order for vitamin D to be produced.
  • As we age, our kidneys are not able to convert vitamin D to its active form as quickly or effectively.
  • Certain medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease, as well as obesity, also affect the way vitamin D is absorbed in the body.

Does sunscreen decrease vitamin D absorption?

Unfortunately, sunscreen does block or hinder the skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Whilst sunshine is the most effective way for the body to produce Vitamin D, excessive exposure to UV light can increase the risk of skin cancer, so it’s imperative to take a sensible approach to UV exposure when not using any sun protection.

Can I take too much vitamin D?

It’s important to note that too much vitamin D from supplementation can cause toxicity, but this does not occur from diet or sunshine. Speak with a medical professional about the correct dosage for your personal circumstance,

Quick tips for increasing your vitamin D levels:

  • Exposure to sunshine (10-15 minutes per day)
  • Consume seafood (salmon, tuna, mackerel, oysters, shrimp, sardines, anchovies)
  • Include mushrooms in your diet
  • Eat more eggs (free range are best)
  • Consume fortified food (cow’s milk, cereal, orange juice)
  • Take a vitamin D supplement

If you have any concerns that you have a vitamin D deficiency, it’s important to seek medical advice.