Would you know if you were? Most of us are aware of the government's ‘5 a day’ fruit and vegetable guideline and know that we need to incorporate certain food groups in our diet and may even take regular supplements. But are we actually sure if our bodies are getting the nutrients they need to function properly and maintain good health?
I've compiled a list of the most common ones, why they are important and how you can solve them.
Todays post is focusing on - Vitamin D
Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. It is now more widely recognised as a common deficiency particularly in the UK, as it’s thought one in five adults and one is six children may have low levels.
Whilst how long it is safe for us to expose our skin to the sun is still a matter of debate, a group of UK charities including Cancer Research UK and the British Association of Dermatologists have advised people to regularly go outside for a few minutes, in the middle of the day without sunscreen and that “the more skin that is exposed the greater the chance of producing sufficient vitamin D before burning”. This is dependent though on your natural skin colouring, (darker skin takes longer to make vitamin D), the time of day, where you live and how strong the sun’s rays are and also on how much of your skin is exposed.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which can be stored in the body for future use. It is also a hormone and helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate that’s absorbed in the body. When blood calcium levels are low, vitamin D stimulates osteoclasts (bone building cells) to release calcium into the blood, keeping it regulated so it can be used as and when needed. It also regulates absorption in the kidneys helping them to reuse calcium so it can be reabsorbed into the bones, which might otherwise be lost, when it’s excreted as urine. It also helps in the intestines, by stimulating your body to absorb calcium from food. Most people only consider their calcium intake when it comes to their bone health, but vitamin D works together with calcium making your body absorb and utilise it when it’s needed. It is essential for healthy bones, muscles and teeth.
Vitamin D helps with the normal function of our immune system but also more recently is thought to have a link with depression. Our brain contains vitamin D receptors which trigger responses in our body, these are located in the part of the brain that is also linked with depression and mental health issues, which leads experts to believe there is a direct link between vitamin D and depression.
So what are potential deficiency symptoms of vitamin D?
It’s thought that Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD which commonly occurs in the Winter or with low light levels may be due to a lack of vitamin D, affecting our serotonin levels in the brain. If you suffer from frequent infections due to poor immunity this could also be from a lack of vitamin D as it’s believed vitamin D helps our T cells - white blood cells which circulate our body fighting infection.
Perhaps the most common symptoms however, are musculo-skeletal disorders which create stiffness and pain in the bones, joints and muscles. Whilst certain activities can cause wear and tear on your body, if you are suffering from a lack of vitamin D leading to impaired calcium and phosphorous absorption, your body will no longer prioritise these minerals needed for your bones, using up its stores, which can lead to soft bones ‘osteomalacia’ and bone tenderness. Osteoporosis which affects around 3 million people in the UK, is essentially a condition where the bone is thinning. Linked to older age and the menopause, it also associated with impaired vitamin D metabolism.
And what’s the solution?
So with the majority of the UK thought to be vitamin D deficient we need to get out into the sunshine and start making some more! Even if you’re at work Monday to Friday, getting outside in your lunch break and getting some sunlight will help you top up your levels whatever the time of year. And remember to top up with foods which contain vitamin D. The best food sources are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as red meat and eggs. It’s also supplemented in some foods such as cereals. Whole milk (not skimmed or semi), contains low levels. Mushrooms also contain vitamin D at varying levels and did you know if you leave your mushrooms out in the sun for at least an hour they will absorb more vitamin D? In the winter months it may be worth considering taking a supplement.