Led by the Vitamin D Society, Vitamin D Council and GrassrootsHealth, Vitamin D Day is a day marked to recognize vitamin D deficiency as a world health problem. Researchers has agreed that at least one third of the world is deficient in vitamin D, and some scientists think it's even greater than that.
Why are so many of us vitamin D deficient?
The reason is that we get our vitamin D through skin exposure to the sun but we're all living an increasingly indoor existence - avoiding the sun daily. Compounding this issue is that when we do get out in the sun we slather on the sun block through fear of getting skin cancer. These factors combined mean a high proportion of the world suffer from vitamin D deficiency.
Northern hemisphere countries are particular at risk due to low light levels during the winter months, this means that it's particularly important during this half of the year to seek other sources of vitamin D through specific dietary choices, supplements or UVB lamps.
Why is vitamin D so important for our body's?
Vitamin D affects many different parts of your body, it has recently been reported that it regulates around 3% of the human genome.
It's important for our bones
Vitamin D increases the amount of minerals in our bones which protects against a condition called osteomalacia in which your bones get soft and bendy. When osteomalacia happens in children it’s called Ricketts and can lead to visible limb deformities.
...And our gut
Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium and phosphate, both being essential for the health of our bones. Calcium is also important for muscle function, including the muscle found in your heart.
Vitamin D helps the immune system by encouraging white blood cells to develop into the specialised cells that fight various infections.
...And it inhibits growth of tumour cells
Research has shown vitamin D to inhibit the growth of tumour cells as well as inducing something called differentiation - this is a process that makes tumour cells look and behave more like normal cells and thereby reducing uncontrollable growth associated with cancer.
Studies in the lab have also shown that vitamin D can stop the development of blood vessels supplying tumour cells, which in turn can help reduce cancer growth by stopping the flow of nutrients and oxygen vital for cell growth. It can also help prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. So far, these studies are “pre-clinical” which means they haven’t been carried out on actual humans. Further clinical studies are therefore needed to show if/how this could be used for cancer prevention and mortality rates
What are the scientists saying?
Doctors and scientists are in agreement that vitamin D status is associated with a myriad of very important clinical diseases. Research continues to uncover evidence that links low vitamin D status to a higher prevalence of a variety of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, and other diseases like breast and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma, and various infections.
Michael Holick, MD and Professor of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine says:
“Vitamin D deficiency is a global pandemic that has serious health consequences for children and adults. Improvement in the world’s vitamin D status could significantly reduce risk of many chronic illnesses including cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes and many deadly cancers as well as infectious diseases including upper respiratory tract infections, influenza and tuberculosis.”
How to boost your vitamin D levels
- Spend time out in the sunlight on a daily basis if possible - between 15 and 30 minutes is all you need.
- Eat vitamin D rich foods - this includes oily fish, eggs, liver and red meat. You can have a look at the NHS website for their recommendations.
Fortified foods are also an option but watch out for yoghurts and cereals that are packed with high amounts of sugar.
- Take a supplement - if you can’t be certain that you are getting enough vitamin D daily from your diet and you know you can't be getting enough sun exposure then it's highly recommended that you take a daily supplement, particularly through the winter months.Supplements are particularly important for people who have darker skin, those that cover their skin whilst outdoors, and those spending lots of time indoors or are planning a pregnancy.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.