Shining a Light on Vitamin D: Your top 5 questions answered
1 -How and where do we get vitamin D?
Funnily enough, although vitamin D is called a vitamin, it actually works like a hormone in our bodies, and is produced in our skin by ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which we get from sunlight. It’s actually the only vitamin that can be made naturally by our bodies.
Vitimin D Intake
We can also get a little, from certain foods and supplements, So, we get 90% from sunlight and the rest from foods we eat, such as oily fish, mushrooms, and fortification of food with vitamin D (we will be blogging about vitamin D rich foods, and recipes in future); alternatively, we can take a supplement*. Still, the best way is to get a little natural sunlight directly on the skin every day in spring/ summer months.
* It’s also important to know that if we take too many vitamin D supplements (greater than 4,000 IU daily), it can cause a toxic reaction in the body.
2 - What does Vitamin D do?
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone and is needed to absorb calcium, magnesium and some phosphates in our gut – we all want healthier guts, right? In the longer term it helps maintain bone health, where it promotes increased bone mineral density – to you and me that’s stronger bones! Vitamin D deficiency causes weak bones in children (rickets) and in adults (osteomalacia – softening of bones). It also helps protect against getting osteoporosis in later life. However, it affects other organs in our body, and deficiency in this vital vitamin has been linked to cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, cancers, infertility, preeclampsia, and low birth weights.
3 - Who gets vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is vastly known as a “silent epidemic” affecting over 1 billion people globally. In the UK 60% and Europe 80% of the population is deficient. Despite abundant sunshine, vitamin D deficiency in the Middle East is also very high, with over 86% of the population recorded as deficient in the UAE. Women are affected more than men.
In the UK, there are 5 at-risk groups: all pregnant and breastfeeding women (particularly teenagers and young women); children under 5 years; people over 65; people with low or no exposure to the sun (including women who cover for cultural and religious reasons) and people who have darker skin BAME - this is because the melatonin, present in skin, restricts it from absorbing the sunlight.
4 - How do we know if we’re deficient?
The short answer is we don’t - until we go to our doctor with some health issue and they decide to do a routine blood test! However, for some of us we may experience one or more of the following symptoms, and in this case, we need to get to our doctor so that they can diagnose the problem.
Here are six common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency that you can identify yourself:
i. Depression- vitamin D helps the brain produce serotonin, which affects our feelings of happiness.
ii. Bone and back pain this can be caused by the vitamin D deficiency with insufficient absorption of calcium
iii. Fatigue and tiredness – this can be due to many causes, and vitamin D deficiency could be one of them.
iv. Low immunity – if you’re getting sick and infected often, your vitamin D levels can be a contributing factor, since vitamin D is needed by your body to create energy.
v. Impaired wound healing – studies have shown that vitamin D improves healing, controls inflammation and fights infection.
vi. Irritability – similar to depression, this may be because you’re not producing enough serotonin. Vitamin D will help balance your moods.
5 - When can we get vitamin D?
Your skin type, and where you live in the world, will affect your amount of “safe-sun exposure.” In the UK, depending on your skin type, research shows that by exposing your lower legs, arms and face between 9 to 25 minutes every day, between 11am – 3pm between March and September would be enough. A good way of remembering when to get this sun exposure is to go out when you are taller than your shadow!
This simple exercise would provide adequate Vitamin D levels which would last all year round and so would get us through those sunless winter months!
At the end of the day
Vitamin D deficiency is very common and most of us are unaware that we are deficient. If you think you may be deficient then it’s important that you speak to your doctor and get your vitamin D levels tested.
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