What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an often over-looked and under-rated nutrient. However, it is one of the most vital nutrients that help in maintaining a good health. Vitamin D is a group of vitamins that help the intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. While there exist around 5 forms of vitamin D, the 2 most important categories of vitamin D remain D3 and D2 vitamins. Vitamin D is found in some foods such as fatty fish and fish liver oils, but in very small quantities. The main source of vitamin D is from sunlight (UV light) - explaining its popular connotation as the “sunshine” vitamin.
Vitamin D deficiency in the UK is more common than generally thought. In fact, it is more the norm than the exception. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults and around 1 in 6 children in the UK are vitamin D deficient. This accounts for an estimated 10 million people who face a deficiency in vitamin D, according to data gathered by Public Health England. Interestingly, an article in Reuters highlights that around 80% of UK teens do not get enough exposure to sunlight.
With the constant grey weather in the UK, this comes as no surprise, does it? Moreover, the lifestyle of the contemporary British individual is more geared toward the indoor than the outdoor -he spends hours at work, hours on his computer or television at home. This further reduces the amount of sunlight exposure he gets.
The recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin D in the UK is just 5mcg (200 IU) per day, although the requirements can go up to 25mcg (1000 units) during winter.
How to know if you are deficient in vitamin D?
Vitamin D has several important functions besides aiding in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, helping in bone and teeth formation and for maintaining a good immune system. Some other lesser known benefits of vitamin D included:
1. It can boost weight loss
Consider adding vitamin D to your diet if you are thinking of losing those extra kilos. Research has shown that extra calcium and vitamin D have an appetite suppressing effect
2. It protects against certain disease
Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the chances of having flu and heart disease. It also has a protective effect against multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and cancer. Vitamin D increases cancer cell death and hence slows the growth of cancerous cells.
Certain types of persons are at a higher risk of suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. These persons include:
1. People with darker skin
A darker skin means that you need the more sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as a fair-skinned person. Melanin in darker toned persons hinders vitamin D synthesis.
2. Those who stay indoors a lot during the day
3. People using a lot of sunscreen
Sunscreen decreases the absorption of vitamin D. SPF 8 sunscreen is thought to reduce vitamin D production in the skin by 95%, and SPF15 reduces vitamin D production by 99%.
4. Those aged over 65 years
Older people generally have thinner skin and this hinders their capacity to produce vitamin D. They also spend more time indoors which prevents an effective synthesis of vitamin D.
5. Pregnant women
Pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D seem to be at greater risk of developing preeclampsia and were also highly likely to need a caesarean section. A vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women can also cause gestational diabetes mellitus.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency
Feeling constantly tired with a sore body? Chances are that you might be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. Indeed, symptoms of a deficiency in vitamin D include tiredness and general aches and pain. Stress fractures are also common among those with a vitamin D deficiency. However, an individual might still be deficient in vitamin D and not have any of the mentioned symptoms. The best way to know if you are truly deficient is to get a vitamin D blood test with your physician.
Common medical conditions associated with a severe vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, bone pain, muscle pain, joint pain, migraines, skin pigmentation problems and even rickets. Individuals will also be at a higher risk of developing bone abnormalities such as soft bones (osteomalacia) or fragile bones (osteoporosis).
Some people with a vitamin D deficiency develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and can even become depressed.
If you want to know more about SAD, go to this link:
How to get more vitamin D and prevent a deficiency?
1. Get more sunlight
Get around 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight, at least two to three times a week, without using sunscreen (Remember sunscreen diminishes vitamin D production). However, it is not always realistic to do so with work and other personal commitments for many people. In which case, it is better to take vitamin D supplements and get a controlled exposure to a vitamin D lamp.
2. Use a vitamin D supplement
Vitamin D supplements are the most popular way of increasing vitamin D intake. Vitamin D supplements can usually be taken orally.
3. Use a vitamin D lamp
A vitamin D lamp allows the skin to produce extra vitamin D, especially during periods of low sunlight, such as autumn and winter. A vitamin D lamp is especially useful for those living in northern latitude countries- where sunshine can be rare.
However, we recommend careful use of vitamin D supplements and of vitamin D lamps. While vitamin D toxicity is extremely rare, it can cause hypercalcemia. This can cause immediate problems such as poor appetite, nausea and vomiting. If not attended to, hypercalcemia leads to high deposits of calcium in organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver, resulting in pain and organ damage. Vitamin D toxicity occurs with an intake of more than 1250 mcg/day (50,000 IU) for several months. However, this is a very high amount that is not likely to be attained by taking recommended doses of vitamin D supplements or through exposure to vitamin D lamps.
Studies have found that in the winter, when there is less available sunlight; vitamin D deficiencies often get worse. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults and around 1 in 6 children in the UK are vita..