We all know we need vitamins and minerals to enable our bodies to function and stay healthy, but vitamin D is a bit of a megastar, putting in an award winning performance each day. Closer to a hormone that the body is able to synthesise, under the right conditions, it helps support the production of white blood cells, fight infection and reduce inflammation, and ensure that we get enough calcium.
The trigger for vitamin D to pull off this all-star performance is the sun – when UVB light reaches our body it reacts with cholesterol, deep under our skin’s layers, which produces a pre-vitamin D. This then goes ‘live’ and is converted to active vitamin D (calcitriol) by the liver and kidneys, travelling through our body to interact with its cells.
In the UK, even in summer, we struggle to achieve sufficient levels of vitamin D from the sun and therefore rely more heavily on diet, drawing vitamin D from foods including oily fish, eggs and mushrooms.
Sunscreen will prevent your body absorbing vitamin D from the sun, and for people who rarely spend
time outside or keep their skin covered, it can be tricky to get your intake naturally. Vitamin D is split into two types – D2 and D3 – and, in particular, vegetarians and vegans can struggle as the latter comes from animals and is more effective at raising our levels, compared with plant-based vitamin D2.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to extreme fatigue, a low immune system, bone or back pain and even
depression. It has been suggested that low vitamin D can be a reason why some of us are more predisposed
to winter colds and flu.
So it’s important to ensure we are getting enough of the vitamin, and it’s worth considering a daily
supplement if you are not getting sufficient intake from your diet.
In particular, during autumn and winter, Public Health England recommends everyone over 12 months takes a daily supplement of 10mcg, although many medical professionals suggest 25mcg, rising to 50mcg per day from 50+ as a more appropriate level to take.
Vitamin D’s role in bone health is well-established, and even young children at risk of soft bones (osteomalacia), which can lead to bowing of the legs, can benefit from taking it.
More recently, research has suggested that low levels of the vitamin may contribute to depression, with a third of participants in one study suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Those with higher levels of vitamin D experienced less severe symptoms.
Ray Of Positivity
More positively, research has also suggested that vitamin D can help our sports performance – participants given a daily dose of 5,000iu of vitamin D for eight weeks showed significant improvement in their sprint time and vertical-jump height.
Initial studies have also started to examine vitamin D’s abilities to improve our cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart attack, particularly among older adults, along with IBS, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
There’s undoubtedly more to discover about the powers of vitamin D in keeping our body fit and healthy, but taking a supplement each day may just help you to navigate the winter months a little easier.