Most vitamins we get from our diets. But vitamin D, which isn’t strictly a vitamin but a hormone, is different. While we get some vitamin D from the food we eat, the vast majority is synthesised on our skin when exposed to UVB light from the sun.
So what’s the problem? Well for those of us living in Northern latitudes, between October and March, we are unable to make any Vitamin D on our skin at all. That’s because the angle we are to the sun means we are not exposed to any UVB light, even on a bright, sunny Autumnal day.
Why does Vitamin D matter?
You might have heard that vitamin D is important as it helps the bones absorb calcium. But its role in the body goes far beyond that. In fact, almost every cell in the human body contains a vitamin D receptor which demonstrates its importance. Some of its other roles include:
- Regulation of immune cells
- Secretion of antimicrobial proteins into the respiratory system, providing first line defense against cold and flu germs
- Helping the secretion and synthesis of insulin
- Supporting heart function and blood clotting
- Supporting gene regulation and cellular differentiation – two of the things that happen in the body to help protect us from cancer.
Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to rickets in youngsters and osteomalacia in adults – the softening of bones which can lead to increased risk of fractures. It’s also thought that deficiency can contribute to the development of autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes and increased risk of cancer and chronic disease including high blood pressure. Low levels have been linked to a huge range of conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to psoriasis; depression to PMS and even dementia, to name but a few.
What can we do about it?
Hopefully you are now convinced that vitamin D is really important! So, what can we do to ensure we get enough? Read on!
Can I get enough Vitamin D from food?
Although we obtain small amounts of Vitamin D from food like oily fish, mushrooms, dairy, eggs and fortified cereals and plant milks, this is not enough to rely on.
Can I store vitamin D made in the summer?
If you get adequate sun exposure during the summer, this can keep you going through the winter as we evolved to store it. However, very few of us do get enough. While our ancestors spent most of their time outdoors, most of us today are exposed to very little sun. We have jobs in offices, schools and hospitals; we travel to those jobs by car or bus; we socialise in bars and restaurants; relax at home in front of the television and even our exercise is done indoors in the gym. If we do expose ourselves to the sun, it is done in an extreme measure: cooking ourselves on the beach for two weeks a year. This very unsafe method of sun exposure that became popular from the 1970’s onwards, has led to dramatic increases in skin cancer; the fear of which has resulted in us smothering ourselves in sun protection. It’s right that we protect ourselves from the sun but even a sun cream with an SPF as low as 8 blocks production of vitamin D by 90%; SPF 30 blocks it by 99%.
The ideal solution is to expose your skin (arms and legs – face alone is not enough) to a certain amount of sun each day in the summer months (without SPF) – as a rough guide, about a quarter of the time it would take for your skin to start going pink. For a pale skinned person in Scotland that might be 15-30 minutes at midday on a warm summer day; it might be as little as 3 minutes for the same person holidaying on the Tropics. This amount of sun will give you adequate Vitamin D while minimising risks. However for most of us living in Scotland, this is not a realistic solution, not least because of the lack of sunny days.
Should I take a Vitamin D supplement?
If you want to know your vitamin D levels, you could ask your GP to carry out a test, although they will likely only do so if you are displaying symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Alternatively you can arrange your own test for a fee, for example through Better You; or have me or another nutritional therapist arrange a test and analysis the results for you.
However the fact is that Vitamin D deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world. Generally I don’t suggest a test but do recommend a supplement to the vast majority of my clients, at least in the winter months. I may also recommend varying doses, depending on individual health conditions, symptoms or lifestyle. I always check the safety of prescribed doses and check for drug-nutrient interactions.
Which vitamin D supplement should I use?
My favourite is this vitamin D spray by Better You. It also contains vitamin K2 which works with vitamin D to help ensure calcium is absorbed by the bones; and because it is a spray rather than a pill, it is easier to take for many people and is quickly absorbed. If you are on medications, please always consult your doctor or a nutritional therapist like myself before taking any supplements.
If you would like to discuss your personal nutrition requirements, please contact me to make an appointment.
Information in this post has come from Dr M F Holick: The Vitamin D Solution