Australia is a country that is lucky enough to bask in the sunshine for most of the year. However, the majority of Australians are Vitamin D deficient. We are now just coming out of Winter, where the sun is further away and we have been so rugged up in half a dozen layers of clothing we may as well call ourselves Eskimos! Spring and shortly going into Summer, is the perfect time to replenish our stores of Vitamin D. So what is the significance of Vitamin D? The best way to find this out is by first understanding why proper Vitamin D levels are crucial for our survival.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D (or the Sunshine Vitamin) is classed as steroid vitamin, which encourages the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in our bodies. Five forms of this vitamin have been discovered; D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5. The two forms that matter the most to humans are D2 and D3. The human body does not produce its own Vitamin D, which is why we have to look to outside sources to get our daily dose.
Where can we get Vitamin D?
There are a few sources of Vitamin D that are readily absorbed in our bodies; supplements, food and the sun. As a supplement it is important to make sure that it says Vitamin D3 on the label. Most supplements in Australia come in 100mg/tablet dosage, which generally you are required to take one daily. However, if blood tests have revealed that you are deficient your healthcare practitioner may recommend a different dosage.
The foods highest in Vitamin D are seafoods. Cod liver oil has the highest concentration of Vitamin D of all foods, and can be purchased as a capsule. Fish, oysters and caviar also possess amounts of Vitamin D.
The BEST source of Vitamin D is from the sun. Vitamin D3 is made in the skin when UV light interacts with the chemical responsible for Vitamin D production. This form also contains a form of sulphate which is not present in supplements and enhances the strength and absorption of Vitamin D in our bodies. This is why 10 minutes of sun/day on bare skin (arms, legs, face and back) without sunscreen is the perfect way of making sure we get our required dose of Vitamin D. Having too much sun can also hinder the absorption of Vitamin D. Your time in the sun isn’t designed to get your sunburnt, rather just long enough for your body to absorb those UV rays.
What happens when we are Vitamin D deficient?
Traditionally, Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with Rickets; a disease in which the bone tissue doesn't properly mineralise, leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities. However, research has now proven that it can lead to a host of different diseases. These health issues can include increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, severe asthma in children and cancer.
Who is most at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
- Those who don’t go out into the beautiful sunshine enough, or always use sun protection
- People who spend most of their time indoors. E.g. the elderly, those who have desk jobs, etc
- Those who don’t have adequate supplementation over a long period of time consistently
- You have dark skin – which reduces the suns ability to make Vitamin D due to the pigments
- Your kidneys cannot convert Vitamin D to its active form
- Your digestive tract cannot absorb Vitamin D
- You are obese as Vitamin D is extracted from fat cells, altering its release into the circulation
How Vitamin D improves our health?
Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the size of cancerous tumours, prevent diabetes and hypertension, and reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis. It also reduces stress, improves mood and allows for the proper absorption of calcium so we have strong healthy bones.
Vitamin D has been well documented to aid in the absorption of other minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium. It is not Vitamin D per say that promotes healthy bones in itself, but rather it controls the levels of calcium in the blood. If there is not enough calcium in our diets, it will then be drawn out from our bones. Therefore, it is important to combine Vitamin D and calcium supplementation.
Research has shown that Vitamin D is an antioxidant that is more effective than Vitamin E in regards to preventing oxidation in the body. Vitamin D plays an important role in the regulation of both infectious and inflammatory immune system problems.
Hormonal issues such as infertility have been shown to be associated with low levels of Vitamin D. Even Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) has been corrected by supplementation of Vitamin D and calcium.
So what have we learnt from all this? Get out into the sun, enjoy the beauty of nature and benefit from the benefits of the “Sunshine Vitamin” which is so crucial to our health and wellbeing.