Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is in the news a lot these days as people talk about it as the ‘wonder supplement’. And, in many ways, it is. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the gut absorb calcium.
When we ingest vitamin D, our bodies convert it into calcitriol, the vitamin’s active form. Calcitriol then prompts the body to produce a handful of proteins in the gut, whose job it is to transport calcium from the inside area of the intestine, through its wall, and into the bloodstream. Vitamin D is therefore essential for bone health since calcium helps grow and maintain strong bones. Studies have also found that vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone diseases.
In addition to healthy bones, vitamin D may also provide other health benefits. For example, some studies have shown potential positive impacts on cardiovascular diseases, with experts suggesting it can even lower rates of respiratory infections in both children and adults. However, these have not yet been well-established.
According to the Endocrine Society’s guidelines on vitamin D, exposure to sunlight is the primary source for children and adults. As the public’s general awareness around sun damage and skin cancer has increased, so too has the number of people regularly using sunblock. As a result, it may not be as easy to get all of the vitamin D you need from the sun alone.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Those which do include oily fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel, eggs and cod liver oil and dairy products.
When it comes to the taking of Vitamin D supplements, it turns out that many or most of us need it and it is essential that you get the correct amount for your needs. This can be determined by your doctor or by measuring blood levels alongside an analysis of your diet and health habits.
Vitamin D intake can be measured in two ways: micrograms (mcg) or International Units (IU).
One microgram of vitamin D is equal to 40 IU of vitamin D.
The recommended intakes of vitamin D throughout life were updated by the U.S. Institutes of Medicine (IOM) in 2010 and are currently set at:
Sunlight, supplements, and fish are the three most effective ways to increase vitamin D levels. But which one you choose will depend on several factors.
Firstly, sunlight is free! However, you have to ensure you get the right kind of exposure so as not to increase your risk of skin cancer: don’t get sunburnt!
Oily fish is a good source of vitamin D (and other nutrients). However, it’s advisable not to eat too much as there are concerns about contaminants they contain oily fish. Supplements are a good idea for people who don’t get enough vitamin D through diet or sunshine.
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