When the weather is bad, certainly here in the UK, people will often joke that they aren’t getting enough Vitamin D.
But is it a joke or is vitamin D deficiency a real thing?
Many European countries, especially the UK, suffer from dark and dreary weather throughout the winter. Should we be worried about vitamin D deficiency?
What is Vitamin D?
We all need vitamins to keep us in good working order and to fight off illness. As you will have noticed, if you have ever looked at the contents of a multi-vitamin, our bodies need quite an alphabetical array of vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D is a fairly important requirement and is made up of two vitamins – D2 and D3.
Although it is called a vitamin, without getting too technical, Vitamin D is actually a hormone.
How to Get Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is quite a misunderstood vitamin. Yes, it is often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ as we can actually produce it naturally in sunlight. It is also present in some foods, though not many. Unfortunately, they are fairly fatty foods that some people may not eat, especially if they are dieting. Things like cheese, fatty fish, egg yolks and many dairy products for example. This is why vegans can quite easily suffer from a vitamin D deficiency.
We can produce Vitamin D ourselves when our skin is exposed to sunlight. We get about 90% of our Vitamin D from sunlight, and the remaining 10% from our foods. If you live in a country that does not get much sunlight, then you should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.
There are not many foods that contain Vitamin D. Sources of Vitamin D, along with sunlight, include:
- Egg yolks.
- Red meat.
- Oily fish including salmon, fresh tuna, sardines, mackerel.
- Fortified milk in some countries – not the UK where we don’t have fortified milk.
There are therefore 3 ways to get your Vitamin D. The best way when done safely, is from sunlight exposure on your skin. Then through your food choices and lastly from a Vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D supplements are quite popular as it is difficult to get your daily requirement from sunshine and food.
What Does Vitamin D Do?
Vitamin D is required for good health in general, but for strong, healthy bones in particular. We have known for years that it is a requirement for healthy bones, but we are now realising that it is important for treating other serious health problems.
You may be thinking that it is calcium that you need for strong bones and that is certainly true. We need both calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones. However, it is the Vitamin D that allows us to absorb the calcium and phosphorus minerals.
Vitamin D is used in your bones, your kidneys and your digestive system. Quite the all-rounder!
Vitamin D is a vital requirement for:
- Healthy bones. Without it, you are at risk of bone abnormalities.
- Healthy teeth.
- Immune system. It not only fights disease but also cold and flu bugs.
- Muscle function.
- Healthy heart and circulation. Vitamin D lowers your risk of heart disease.
- Healthy lungs.
- Insulin regulation.
- Brain function.
- Vitamin D is a mood regulator and can reduce depression.
What Is Vitamin D Deficiency and How Is It Treated?
You may have heard of rickets. Rickets is when children’s bones become deformed due to lack of Vitamin D. There is the adult equivalent known as osteomatacia or osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is very common in older women, and men to a lesser extent.
If you have Vitamin D deficiency, you are in danger of developing additional illnesses including:
Lack of Vitamin D has also been linked to some cancers and Alzheimers.
Am I In Danger Of Having Vitamin D Deficiency?
It is estimated that as much as 50 percent of the population could be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Are you in danger of not getting enough Vitamin D? The following are higher risk groups:
- Adults who always wear sun protection – either lotions or clothing.
- Adults who don’t spend much time outdoors.
- The elderly.
- Those with dark skin especially from Africa, India or the Middle East. This is because dark skin does not absorb as much sunlight as lighter skin.
- Those who live in heavily polluted areas or who live in cities whose large buildings block out the sunlight.
It is interesting to note that Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the USA. This is not really because of any environmental causes but is due to education. Many Americans think that the amount of fortified foods they consume is enough. However, as we have seen, you simply can’t get sufficient Vitamin D through food.
Signs Of Possible Vitamin D Deficiency.
You can have a blood test if you are concerned that you are Vitamin D deficient, however, here are some of the possible signs and symptoms that you should be aware of.
- Depression. We all feel better when we go on a sunny holiday and that is not just due to the umbrella drinks. We are happier when exposed to bright light, and more depressed with decreased light.
- Age. If you are over 50 your body is less able to convert the sunlight you are exposed to. You may spend as much time in the sun, as someone younger, but you will generate less Vitamin D.
- Overweight. If you are overweight then you need more Vitamin D than others.
- Aches and Pains. If you are tired and generally achy, this could be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency.
- Sickness. You could be at risk if you are getting ill more often than usual. You may just have a sense of not feeling well.
When Should Vitamin D Be Taken?
If may be wondering if you need a Vitamin D supplement. You go out in the sun but how much is enough? Studies indicate that 5-10 minutes of sun exposure 2-3 times a week is sufficient. However, Vitamin D is not something that can be stored in the body for any length of time.
Depending on your job and your lifestyle, taking Vitamin D during the winter months will probably be beneficial to you. As Vitamin D improves your immune system, taking a supplement will help you in the fight against winter bugs and colds.
Experts now believe that you need more Vitamin D that was previously believed.
The NHS recommends that if you have little, or no exposure to the sun that you take a supplement.
Can You Have Too Much Vitamin D?
You might think it is worth taking a supplement, just in case. However, too much Vitamin D is not a good thing either. Taking too much Vitamin D is known as hypervitaminosis D. If you take too many Vitamin D supplements, you can build up too much calcium in your body which will weaken your bones and heart.
As with most vitamins, it is certainly better if you can get your quota of Vitamin D from natural sources rather than through supplements. Supplements can be used when this is not the case, though care should be taken. Note that you can’t make too much Vitamin D from sun exposure.
It is interesting, and slightly scary, to realise that such a large proportion of the population is Vitamin D deficient. For all our medical advancements and breakthroughs, it seems we are going back to the dark ages where Vitamin D is concerned. It is important to all of us that we become more knowledgeable about Vitamin D and the effect it can have on our health now and in the future.