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Overview of Vitamin D
(the sunshine vitamin)
Despite it's sunny deposition! Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is actually an steroid hormone with big health benefits. Our bodies make vitamin D, through the sun's UVB rays.
In Ireland and the UK, it is possible to absorb enough vitamin D from the sun between March and September, by simply getting outside. This is especially true for more Southern regions. Brighton, England is 5,635 km from the equator, where as Belfast, Northern Ireland is 6,052 km.
During Autumn and Winter it is recommended, to get our Vitamin D from food or supplementation. However what does this mean in terms of vitamin D, our location and susceptibility to certain diseases? Let's find out by firstly determining your risk of having a vitamin D deficiency.
Are you at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
If you can answer yes, to any of the following risk factors. It is advisable to have your Vitamin D levels checked by your GP, especially if you experience any of the additional signs & symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency discussed further into this post.
Risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency
Living far from the equator
Eating little dairy or fish
Always applying sunscreen before leaving home
Why does our location have a role in in Vitamin D deficiency?
It has been proven, that when we live far from the equator we are more vulnerable to certain diseases. Type 1 diabetes is one of the diseases that varies by location. A Finnish child is 400 times more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes than a Venezuelan child. This evidence is based on a 30 year study that followed from birth, 10,000 Finnish children. The children who did receive Vitamin D supplementation during infancy had a 90 per cent lower risk of not developing Type 1 diabetes during childhood/adolescence.
Researchers noticed an interesting relationship between geographic location and colon cancer deaths. Individuals who live at higher latitudes (where the sun's UVB rays are weaker), had a higher incidence of death from colon cancer than individuals who live closer to the equator. Please note: this research is still on-going. Findings do not necessarily mean taking Vitamin D supplements will lower colon cancer risk.
Researchers also suspect that chronic vitamin D deficiencies may be one reason why, Multiple sclerosis (MS) rates are much higher far north (or far south) of the equator than in sunnier climates. Not only has Vitamin D deficiency been linked to increased risk of getting MS, but also more frequent relapses and further disability in people who have MS. We do know that you are higher risk of getting MS if you live in Scotland compared to if you lived in England. Possibly as Scotland is further from the equator than England. Our birth month can sometimes determine our risk of being diagnosed with MS. In the UK, more people with MS will have been born in April or May than October or November. If you were born after winter your mother may have had lower vitamin D levels, than someone born in the Autumn. Which does raise this question. Pregnant women are strongly encouraged to take Folic Acid before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Shouldn't it be just as important to inform and advise pregnant women, about the risks of Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy on their child's health later in life such as with Type 1 diabetes and MS?!
How can we tell ourselves that we may have a Vitamin D deficiency?
Keep an eye for the following troubling sign & symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:
Becoming sick or catching bacterial/viral infections often
Chronic fatigue or tiredness
Depression or anxiety
Slow wound healing after injury or surgery
Bone loss (low bone density)
Back pain or joint pain
Muscle weakness & cramps
Gait (walking) disturbances
Blood sugar issues
Low levels of calcium in the blood
UK Guidelines of Recommended Vitamin D dosage
As the significance of Vitamin D is becoming more important to public health, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition set recommended guidelines for the first time. This means every person in the UK should be taking the recommended amounts of Vitamin D either through sun exposure, some foods and/or supplementation. However it important to note, that many experts agree that the human body needs more Vitamin D than the dosages below but this is the recommended guidelines for the UK.
Infants from birth to 1 year - 8.5 to 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day.
Children from 1 year to 4 years - 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day.
Anyone age 4 years and older - 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women - 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day.
10 micrograms is equivalent to 400IU
If you have a certain condition that requires you to take more than the recommended amount of Vitamin D, your health professional should inform you. If in doubt ask.
Sunscreen is highly recommended to prevent skin burning, however it does block vitamin D absorption. It is advised that a person gets between 5-30 minutes of natural sunlight exposure twice a week. For young children and people with very fair skin (arms, legs or face), 5 minutes should be enough without the risk of sunburn.
People with darker skin may not get enough Vitamin D from sunlight due to the skin pigment (melanin) and it's inability to absorb as much UV radiation as fairer skin.
Vitamin D Foods
Vitamin D rich foods include oily fish, red meat, liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Also some foods and beverages have been fortified with Vitamin D: breakfast cereals, cow's milk, orange juice, soy milk, almond milk and yogurt (some brands may not add Vitamin D, please check the labels).
Vitamin D also has an important role in regulating levels of calcium, phosphorus and in bone mineralization.
Our body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vitamin D helps our intestines absorb calcium from the food that we eat, therefore keeping our calcium levels at optimal levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is a global concern, even for industrialized countries. Within in the UK, GPs are seeing a worrying resurgence of Rickets among children. Rickets is a crippling condition thought to be long eradicated due to an increase of 'Vitamin D fortified foods' over the years. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to osteoporosis in adults.
Immune Function & Vitamin D
Vitamin D can help protect against chronic illnesses/conditions. Most of Vitamin D's health benefits are primarily due to it's ability to influence genetic expression, making it essential for the proper functioning of our immune systems. Vitamin D research shows it may help protect against disease progression or associated 'flare ups' of many autoimmune disorders, including but not limited to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Type 1 Diabetes, lupus, Alopecia Areata (AA). Vitamin D supports are immune system in it's fight against infectious diseases such as tuberclosis, Flu and the common cold.
We love the sunshine vitamin!
Have you been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency? Please share your story in the comment section.