Vitamin D – why we need it

VITAMIN D – the sunshine vitamin            

As winter draws in and summer sunshine is a distant dream, we should be thinking about how to maintain our body stores of Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is actually a pro hormone as it is synthesised by the body from sunlight.

There’s good reason why vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin.” When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.

It is also found in food such as oily fish, eggs and butter. If you were to compare how much you get from 30 minutes midday summer sun -10,000 IU- with how much you get from food, e.g. a piece of farmed salmon -330IU; or an egg 128 IU, you can see that relying on food is a tough call. Public Health England’s latest advice is that people should take a supplement of 400IU -800IU per day – but this seems pretty low when you realise how much we get from the sun -when we get the sun that is!

But before we start thinking of dosage, maybe we should consider why we actually need Vitamin D. As well as strengthening our bones and muscle function and supporting our immune system, it’s also now being linked to our sleep, mood, memory and brain function. It also helps insulin regulation so helping diabetes management. And the more research that goes on establishes more and more links to other health issues like cancer, heart disease and auto immune disease. For example, a 2015 meta-analysis involving more than half a million people showed that people with higher vitamin D had lower mortality from all causes. The author concluded

‘The results of these studies are consistent with the recommendation to improve the general vitamin D status in children and adults by means of a healthy approach to sunlight exposure, consumption of foods containing vitamin D and supplementation with vitamin D preparations’

Some people are at higher risk of having lower Vitamin D than others. These would include:-

  • Older people – unfortunately, the ability to make Vitamin D declines as we age
  • Pregnant women, breastfed babies and children under the age of 5
  • Those who spend most of the time indoors
  • Those with obesity as the Vitamin D is stored in fat cells
  • Those with darker skin tone
  • Those living further north of the equator

What are the signs of a deficiency?

The illustration above gives a good picture of the symptoms. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to hair loss, gum disease and constipation.

So, what should we do to ensure that we are not deficient  in this essential hormone?

  1. Firstly, it’s important to get safe sunlight when you can, without burning. Between March and October in the UK you can ‘dose up’ by getting around 20 minutes of sunshine – without sunblock in the daytime. You would need to expose your arms or legs to get a sufficient amount.
  2. Eat a good diet and include Vitamin D rich foods like eggs, oily fish and butter. You will also find that some foods like milk and orange juice are fortified with it.
  3. Supplement between October and March when the sun is too low to generate enough rays

The Vitamins A,D,E, and K are all fat soluble and bound through shared receptors. Therefore, high supplementation in one can affect others. E.g. High Vit A supplementation can lead to brittle bones as it stops Vit D getting to receptors. In the same way excess Vit D could cause a Vit K deficiency. So, we need to be careful not to over supplement Vitamin D, as any Vitamin, without medical advice. There are some occasions when very high doses are appropriate – when levels are very low and a high ‘loading dose’ is needed. Not be done without medical supervision.

As always its s best to get as much as you can from a good diet.

Vitamin D – from sunlight, some in butter and egg yolks, oily fish and some of the less effective D2 in mushrooms

Vitamin K2 – fermented soy – natto, Gouda, Brie, Edam

Vitamin A – eggs, liver, converted from carotenes in carrots, sweet potato, kale, spinach

Vitamin E – nuts- almonds, seeds, avocado, wheat germ.

However, as we know that it is almost impossible to get enough Vitamin D from food, and as we won’t get any from the sun in the winter, Vitamin D is definitely one to supplement. It’s always best to test to see what your levels are first. Sometimes your GP will do it for you, but if not there are private companies that will d a blood spot test for you. L know that  BetterYou (find them online)  will do a test for £32.95, and  will give you a personalised supplementation plan based on your results, as well as a coupon code to redeem a free DLux Vitamin D spray

What should your levels be?

The NHS states that a level of over 50 nmol/L is sufficient, and 25-50 nmol/L is too low. However, a safer level is probably in the 75 nmol/L and above region.

How much should you supplement?

Although the NHS recommends that people supplement 400-800IU, other experts recommend much higher levels of up to 4000IU per day, especially if there is an insufficiency to start with.

I use BetterYou sprays, as I find them easier to take than a capsule or tablet – I just leave it by my toothbrush so I don t forget it! I use @2000IU of the Vitamin D and K2 version as the K2 helps the calcium that Vitamin D helps to mobilise, into the bones where it is needed. However, this is not recommended for people taking blood thinners as K2 also has this thinning effect.

So, do consider your Vitamin D status this winter. Check out your levels and if needed take a supplement.