Vitamin D has been making headlines as an immunity booster, but it can do so much more. This vitamin — produced when sunlight hits our skin, is crucial for health in many ways. We naturally feel better on sunny days and despite fears of skin cancer, the fact is that getting exposed to a moderate amount of sun is essential for our health and well-being. One of the amazing miracles our body performs is done by your skin:
it converts sunlight into a hormone that is essential for human health. This hormone is called calcitriol, or better known as vitamin D.
Vitamin D therefore, is known as “the sunshine vitamin”.
One of the most famous benefits besides many others is related to bone strength and skeletal health. Also, recently it has been mentioned a lot as an immune booster when it comes to colds, flu and viruses like COVID-19. Research shows that having enough vitamin D is critically important. 61% of the elderly population in the United States (and 96% in India) have some degree of vitamin D deficiency. Checking for vitamin D deficiency isn’t always part of a standard blood test so it can be missed. And many that are vitamin D deficient are therefore not aware of it.
Vitamin D is called calcitriol, or sometimes cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), because it carries calcium through our body and is a type of steroid hormone. Our body uses it to absorb minerals, not only calcium but also phosphorus. This supports strong teeth and bones. Vitamin D also supports muscles, nerves, and the immune system.
Our main source is the sun – through our body’s response when sun’s UV rays penetrate our skin. Besides direct sunlight, we can also get vitamin D from a handful of foods (fatty fish, animal organ meat, very small amounts from eggs and from fortified food like cereals, orange juice and plant-based milks) or from supplements. When taken orally, vitamin D supplements need some fat for absorption as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. That also means that compared to water-soluble vitamins that are excreted, Vitamin D can be stored in fatty tissue throughout our body. Vitamin D also controls the reduction of inflammation, supports with cell growth, our immune system and glucose metabolism.
Vitamin D brings a lot of health benefits on its own but also in cooperation, working with other components in the body.
Do You Need More Vitamin D?
Possibly, because your body:
- Does not get enough regular sunshine especially in winter and in colder regions
- Does not get enough from food when eating a vegan diet or not having any fortified foods
- Does not absorb vitamin D as well as it should, or gets rid of it too quickly
People with darker skin, especially when living in cold climate countries, have lower levels of vitamin D than their white peers – darker skin has natural sun protection and needs longer sun exposure to make the vitamin. But also, they are relatively less affected by lack of vitamin D, not suffering, falls, and fractures as much due to weak bones.
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with slow Wound healing especially when recovering from burns.
Osteoporosis affects a third of women between the ages of 60 and 70 and two thirds of women 80 or older. It is not related to a single cause, but low vitamin D levels make it harder for the body to use the minerals it needs to maintain strong bones.
Low vitamin D levels are also related to muscle pain and weakness with older people and weak muscles can increase the chances of falling and breaking bones.
Pollution in the 1800’s was so bad that it would block a lot of the natural sunlight causing low vitamin D levels that led to an epidemic of the children’s disease called Rickets. Rickets interferes with bone growth, softening and misshaping them. Exposure to sunlight and fortified foods were used to stop this from happening. But today we can still see rickets in babies born to mothers with severely low vitamin D levels which is more common among African American women.
Osteomalacia is a disease that adults are susceptible to when vitamin D levels are not present in adequate amounts for maintenance and repair. something you can get as an adult as even after your bones stop growing, they require vitamin D for maintenance and repair. Breaks and problems especially in the hips can occur when levels are very low for a long time.
Research has also discovered that vitamin D levels can affect both Diabetes type 1 and 2, hypertension, some types of cancer and multiple sclerosis.
When breastfeeding, it is important that the breast milk has a sufficient amount of vitamin D to ensure the health and development of the baby. Most cases of rickets today are seen in breastfed children. Again, the mothers with darker skin are the most at risk if they start of with low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy and continue this trend when breastfeeding.
In people with digestive problems and disorders, the fat absorption is compromised which makes it harder to maintain a healthy vitamin D level. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other digestive conditions like celiac disease and cystic fibrosis are just some examples.
There is also a risk of low vitamin D levels for people after Gastric Bypass operations as removing parts of the stomach or intestines makes it harder to absorb nutrients like vitamin B12, copper, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D.
In Obese people, the vitamin D levels are also reduced. Not because their skin does not make vitamin D but the extra fat under the skin prevents it from getting into the blood.
So regular (yearly) blood tests to monitor those levels will expose any deficiency which may affect your health, especially for those not getting enough natural sunlight, who have signs of low vitamin D levels or who have already been diagnosed with conditions like osteoporosis.
Vitamin D deficiency
How many Australians are deficient in vitamin D?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that one in four Australian adults are vitamin D deficient (<50nmol/L), with 7% having a moderate or severe deficiency (<29 nmol/L). Exposure to UVB radiation (280-315 nm) is the main source of vitamin D. (27 July 2020)
But a new Curtin University study has found 95 per cent of Australians have low vitamin D intakes, with researchers recommending food sources such as oily fish and eggs. 29 Mar 2022
Vitamin D deficiency is a global public health issue.
About 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency, while 50% of the population has vitamin D insufficiency while vitamin D deficiency is highest in the elderly, obese patients, nursing home residents, and hospitalised patients. Compared with the general population, deficiency in obese patients is 35% higher worldwide and is not age related. The instance is higher in nursing home residents, possibly 50% to 60% and likewise in hospitalised patients.
In the United States, about 50% to 60% of nursing home residents and hospitalised patients had vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency may be related to populations who have higher skin melanin content and who use extensive skin coverage, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. 90% of infants in Iran, Turkey and India have vitamin D deficiency compared to 56% of Caucasian infants and the situation is similar when making the same comparison between the adult populations in Pakistan, India and Middle Eastern countries with Caucasian adults only more severe in the elderly.
Vitamin D deficiency leads to dementia (14 June 2022)
Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide, affecting cognitive skills and behaviours as we age.
But what if this degenerative disease could be stopped in its tracks?
A world-first study from the University of South Australia could make this a reality as new genetic research shows a direct link between dementia and a lack of vitamin D.
Investigating the association between vitamin D, neuroimaging features, and the risk of dementia and stroke, the study found:
- low levels of vitamin D were associated with lower brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia and stroke
- genetic analyses supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia
- in some populations as much as 17 per cent of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing everyone to normal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L).
About 487,500 Australians live with dementia and it is the country’s second leading cause of death. Globally, more than 55 million people have dementia with 10 million new cases diagnosed every year.
Vitamin D Toxicity
We can get too much vitamin D as it is a fat-soluble vitamin which means that it can accumulate in your body and can build up. But excess vitamin D only happens from oral intake as our body is extraordinarily good at regulating how much vitamin D is naturally produced and stored with sun exposure. Research has shown that it is not easy to overdose on vitamin D and rarely does supplementation reach toxic levels, but when taking oral vitamin D, especially over winter, it is recommended to test levels regularly as mentioned above.
Note that the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends all breastfed babies receive a daily dosage of 400 IU of vitamin D3 soon after birth to maintain their levels. This is because vitamin D is not transferred well through breastmilk. And babies generally shouldn’t be exposed to much sunlight. Formula-fed babies don’t typically need this supplementation because infant formula is fortified with the vitamin D they need.
When considering a vitamin D supplement choose a vegan vitamin D3 supplement and combine it with vitamin K. Research indicates that vitamin D3 is best absorbed together with vitamin K2 as vitamin K2 supports the calcium in our body being used in our teeth and bones and not ending up as calcification in our blood vessels.
If you are interested in more details and need support with working out what is best for you and your loved ones, consider booking in for an Initial Natural Medicine Consultation: