Vitamin D. It’s not just about healthy bones!

July 1, 2022

Vitamin D is one of the vitamins that we have probably all heard of, especially over the last couple of years. During the pandemic, the NHS and government bodies were recommending that we take a supplement to help overcome the fact that we were not getting outside as much as normal.

The body manufactures vitamin D from a reaction with sunlight on the skin, hence being known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. In the northern hemisphere, it can be hard for us to get enough exposure to sunlight to manufacture enough vitamin D. Therefore, there are recommendations to take supplements, especially for children, those on restricted diets and anyone who doesn’t get outside a lot of keeps their skin covered.

Vitamin is usually expressed as International Units or IU. 1 microgram, (mcg or µ) of vitamin D equals 40IU. The NHS states that the Department of Health and Social Care recommends that adults and children over 4 take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they have:

  • are not often outdoors – for example, if they’re frail or housebound
  • are in an institution like a care home
  • usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
  • If you have dark skin – for example you have an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background – you may also not make enough vitamin D from sunlight.

The recommend that everyone takes a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.

Vitamin D is found in foods such as dairy foods, eggs, oily fish, egg yolks and some fortified foods such as margarine and vegetable spreads. If you are not regularly consuming these foods, a supplement is a good addition to your healthy lifestyle.

The body manufacturers its own vitamin D from sunshine, but in some cases and at certain times of the year, this may not provide enough.

It acts more like a hormone than a vitamin and this could explain why science is showing that it has many and varied roles.

Why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D plays many roles in the body and research is highlighting more all the time. Bone health is perhaps the most well-known, with vitamin D being important in helping Calcium get into the bones and prevention of rickets.

Most people know that vitamin D is important for healthy bones, but science is demonstrating it does so much more.

Vitamin D also plays a role in the health of the immune system, heart health and has also been shown  by research to help boost mood.

In more recent research, vitamin D, or lack of, has been linked to an increased risk degenerative conditions such as dementia and cardiovascular issues. Another recent article cited bone pain and reduced ability to climb the stairs as potential signs of a vitamin D deficiency. If you are concerned that you may have a deficiency, a simple blood test can give you an accurate measure of your vitamin D status, speak to your health professional for more information.

Vitamin D is fat soluble and can be stored by the body, so if your levels are low, you can follow a protocol to build up and restore to healthy levels.

Experts at the University of Birmingham working with the research team at Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research recently evaluated every study that had looked at the impac of vitamin D during pregnancy. This review found a significant association between vitamin D levels and the risk of miscarriage or recurrent miscarriage.

Research has previously shown the importance of this vitamin in later stages of pregnancy, but the scientists believe this finding warrants further research and could be a low cost and simple public health approach to a healthy pregnancy.

Whilst these research papers reflect on early stages of investigation, it shows that vitamin D is about so much more than healthy bones, it will be interesting to see how our understanding of this nutrient develops over the coming years.

If you are experiencing health conditions and/or taking medication, it is always recommended that you speak to your health professional before adding to your regime.

Using supplements

Although we can obtain vitamin D in our diets, there are times when a supplement is useful. As a supplement, vitamin D comes in a variety of formats and strengths, with a bit of investigation, you can find the one that is right for you and fits into your lifestyle.

Vitamin D3 is considered the form that is closest to the form we produce in the body, so ensure your supplement provides this format. It can be sourced from fish oil, but if you want a vegetarian version look for one sourced from lanolin, (sheep’s wool) or a vegan form sustainably sourced from lichen.

If you are not a fan of swallowing capsules, it also available as a liquid. This is also a great way of varying the dose and using for children.

Vitamin D is easy to take in a supplement form, you can find it in capsules or as a liquid making it easy to add to your wellness regime.

Vitamin D and …

Vitamin D may have many functions on its own, but it also plays an important role in the utilisation of other nutrients. There are certain supplements that you may be taking that could benefit from adding vitamin D to your regime.

Calcium and phosphorus are bit important for healthy bone growth. Vitamin D helps the body absorb these minerals.

Thinking of bone health, vitamin K is also important for healthy bones. In supplement form, you will find K2 which breaks down into MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 is the active form used by the body, MK-7 has been shown to be utilised at low doses. Many supplements with only include MK-4 or MK-7, however taking one that contains both may help the utilisation of the nutrient in the body. Vitamin K2 is often taken alongside vitamin D.

Vitamin D increased in popularity during the recent pandemic due to the fact that it contributes to normal immune function. Other nutrients that play a role in in normal immune health include vitamin C and Zinc. These nutrients can be used as part of a regime to support healthy immune function.

If you are looking to build a heart health regime, you might be taking an Omega-3 supplement from fish oils or algae (vegan), you can also add vitamin D to the programme.

Considering that science is suggesting there is a role for vitamin D in brain health and mood function, it can be taken alongside B vitamins and Magnesium, both contributing to normal psychological function, or with Zinc which contributes to normal cognitive function.

Vitamin D is certainly one to watch in the field of nutritional science.  No longer is it only considered important for bone health or a bonus from sitting in the sun. Maybe it is time to review your wellness regime and consider whether it can be improved by including vitamin D. Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine when it arrives and know you are topping up your nutrient levels too.

Although we can make vitamin D from sunshine on the skin, you still need to take care and use caution not to get sunburnt.

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