What's the Story with Vitamin D?
Besides the obvious good feelings the sun inspires in many of us, vitamin D is vitally important to our physical and mental wellbeing, and a deficiency can have numerous psychological and medical consequences. In fact PUblic Health England is now telling government that Vitamind D deficiencies are so high in the UK that we should be taking supplements in winter. Historically, the ‘natural’ level of vitamin D in the body is thought to have been around 50 ng/ml or higher. Whereas nowadays many of us are only hitting around 10 or 15 ng/ml. Estimates suggest that as many as 1 billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency.
Known largely for it’s ability to help the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, thus protecting the density of our bones, vitamin D’s potential stretches much further. A recent study led by Dr Lisa Moran of the University of Adelaide, which was testing whether a link existed between vitamin D deficiency and Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome, actually discovered instead that there is an association between vitamin D levels with both depression and inflammation in overweight women.
Past studies have linked low vitamin D deficiency with severe daytime sleepiness, metabolic syndrome, muscle pain and even type 2 diabetes. Correct levels of vitamin D can help combat cardiovascular and kidney disease and can impact positively on a variety of autoimmune diseases. Importantly, a lack of vitamin D has often been linked to low moods and depression.
Vitamin D can be found in oily fish - such as salmon, mackerel and trout - beef liver, mushrooms, tofu, eggs and cheese. Vitamin D is also produced naturally by the body when it is exposed to sunlight. But how much vitamin D is enough and how is it best to get it?
Many of us are justifiably cautious about the time we spend in the sun, applying sunblock when we do. Unfortunately most sunblock, whilst protecting us to some degree against the danger of skin cancer and the ageing effects of the sun, also blocks it’s benefits. So you will only reap the benefits of vitamin D by exposing your bare skin to sunlight, but we are not encouraging any tanning (or burning); a very short amount of time would be sufficient enough for your body to produce the right amount of vitamin D - around ten minutes for a fair skinned person. It’s recommended that people between the age of 9-70 aim to get at least 600 IUs of vitamin D a day, elderly people should ideally aim for a bit more. If this is hard to achieve through diet and exposure outside, it might be worth considering a supplement. Vitamin D3 is recommended.
Unfortunately, though we all enjoy the immediate boost provided by a sunny afternoon, a vitamin D deficiency can take months to return to normal levels - so make sure you go outside and make the most of it.