With March the 20th being the official start of British spring time we can look all look forward to warmer temperatures and sunnier days. We hope!
This means March marks the first month that everyone can receive adequate vitamin D from safe sun exposure. However, March is also the month when vitamin D levels are the lowest for those living in northern hemisphere.
Vitamin D deficiency is causing many health problems
Unfortunately vitamin D is often an overlooked and under-consumed nutrient, in fact poor lifestyles are now causing a rise in severe vitamin D deficiency among the British population and is the cause of the subsequent rise in Victorian era diseases like childhood rickets. It's the same story worldwide, with a reported one billion people having a deficiency.
This pandemic has lead researchers to point out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year.
Vitamin D serves a variety of functions in the body, including maintaining optimal bone and muscle health, as well as having favorable effects on inflammation. It also fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.
Top 3 Benefits
While there is a myriad of health benefits to ensuring adequate vitamin D levels, here are our top 3:
1. Stronger Bones
Calcium is very important when it comes to bone health and increasing bone mineral density however previous research has shown that vitamin D is a strong stimulator of calcium deposition in bones, making them stronger and healthier.
If you're not getting adequate amounts of vitamin D, your body begins to slow or stop depositing calcium into your bones, eventually this results in calcium being drawn out from your bones back into the bloodstream. Over time, this continual cycle of deposit and withdrawal will weaken your bones and put you at high risk for fractures.
2. Protection from Cardiovasular Disease
A key function of vitamin D is to increase absorption of calcium to maintain proper bone health, but did you know it has a protective effect on your heart? Recent evidence has demonstrated that individuals deficient in vitamin D are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, sudden cardiac death, or heart failure.
Although the exact mechanisms remain unclear, it appears that vitamin D can help lower blood pressure, improve vascular compliance (how elastic your arteries are), and improve glycemic control.
3. Decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can lead to some life changing long-term complications, including nerve damage, heart disease, eye damage and vision loss, as well as kidney failure.
Recent evidence suggests that vitamin D may play a significant role in reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes, especially in those who have a predisposition to developing this disease. Several observational studies have shown improvements in beta cell function, insulin sensitivity, and whole-body inflammation with higher levels of vitamin D.
A recent study calculated the risk of developing type 2 diabetes according to baseline vitamin D status and found those with the highest baseline levels had a 38% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels.
Best sources of Vitamin D
Appropriate sun exposure is the best way to optimise your vitamin D levels and it's free! When your skin is exposed to UVB radiation from sunlight, previtamin D is formed before being transported into the bloodstream. From there, it is quickly moved to the liver and converted to vitamin D. Production in the skin is maximized in roughly 10-15 minutes, depending mainly on skin pigment - in other words those with darker skin colours may need more time in the sun.
However if your circumstances don't allow you to access the sun, then realistically you only have one option if you want to raise your vitamin D levels, and that is to take a vitamin D supplement. You can obtain vitamin D from food sources including oily fish like salmon and trout, as well as dairy, eggs, plants, and mushrooms but they all contain varying amounts and it's difficult to get enough from food sources alone.
Public Health England (PHE), says that adults and children over the age of one should have 10 micrograms or 400 IU of vitamin D every day.
People who have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency are being advised to take a supplement all year round. These at-risk groups include people whose skin has little or no exposure to the sun, like those in care homes, or people who cover their skin when they are outside.
People with dark skin, from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer. They should consider taking a supplement all year round as well.
Remember Vitamin K2
It's important to remember that if you're taking high dose vitamin D supplements, you also need to take vitamin K2. The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn't be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues.
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.