THE BLOG

Vitamin D - Sunshine Vitamin

10/04/2013 13:11 BST | Updated 09/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Looks like spring is finally on its way but with the very limited amount of sunlight, we need to look to boosting our bodies with supplements. Where am I going with this? Vitamin D - the "sunshine vitamin".

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced by the skin in response to exposure to sunlight. We cannot get adequate amounts of Vitamin D from our diets so as we live in a climate that has less sunshine, we need to supplement to keep our Vitamin D levels at its best.

So why do we need Vitamin D? We all know as we've been taught over the years that along with calcium, vitamin D builds strong bones, which is true to an extent. Here's how it really works - vitamin D is actually crucial for the absorption of calcium in your intestines. It is activated in the body by the liver and kidneys before it can be used. Without adequate Vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium which means taking calcium is ineffective. Vitamin D also prevents osteoporosis, depression, prostate and breast cancers and affects diabetes and obesity.

How do we know if we have adequate levels of vitamin D or are deficient? Some symptoms of mild Vitamin D deficiency include feeling tired, vague aches and pains, and a sense of not being well generally. In more severe deficiency known as "osteomalacia", symptoms include more severe pain and weakness. Weakness of the muscles may cause difficulties in moving around, bones can feel tender when moderate pressure is applied - according to Andrew Weil M.D., "if it hurts to press firmly on your sternum, you may be suffering from chronic Vitamin D deficiency".

Children are more prone to infections such as respiratory infections if deficient in Vitamin D. Breathing can be affected due to weakness in chest muscles and ribcage. It can also cause irritability and poor growth, and in more severe cases muscles spasms in babies.

Research has shown that a high number of people in the UK (in the winter and spring, one in 6 adults) and some other countries like Canada and some states in the USA are vitamin D deficient. This is because these countries lie further from the equator to have enough UVB rays from sunlight to make vitamin D.

There are some other instances where the body would not be able to make the necessary vitamin D such as:

• Elderly people who have thinner skin than younger ones so are not able to produce as much vitamin D which leaves them at risk of deficiency

• People who have darker skin e.g. Africans, Afro-Caribbeans are not able to make as much vitamin D. They may need 20 to 30 times as much exposure to sunlight than those with fair skin.

• People who stay indoors a lot or those who cover up their bodies a lot e.g. wearing a veil or burqa are also at risk of deficiency.

• Using sunscreen could potentially lead to deficiency especially those with SPF (factor 8 or above). Our bodies can produce vitamin D on their own when exposed to sunlight but the skin must be free of sunscreen, sunblock and clothing which all interfere with the process.

• Vitamin D deficiency can also occur in people with medical conditions which can affect the way the body handles vitamin D and also people on certain types of medication.

To find out if you are vitamin D deficient, go to your doctor and ask to have a blood test done. Chronic vitamin D deficiency cannot be reversed overnight. It takes months of vitamin D supplementation and exposure to sunlight to rebuild the body's bones and nervous system so it would be a good idea as part of daily routine to supplement and eat foods that have some amount of vitamin D present to prevent becoming deficient.

Oily fish like sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel and cod liver oil are the best dietary source of vitamin D. Milk and some cereals are fortified with synthetic vitamin D which are not adequate for the body. A person would have to drink 10 tall glasses of milk every day in order to just get the minimum levels of vitamin D into their diet, so I wouldn't recommend relying on those.

While we are still without sunshine for now, and most of the year, I would recommend getting vitamin D supplements to boost health and body. Eat healthy and exercise, and when spring and summer do come around, get out there and get your free prescription of the sunshine vitamin - you totally deserve it!

Peace and Fabulous Health!

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