How important is Vitamin D?
Its common knowledge that we produce vitamin D in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight but it requires the liver and the kidneys to convert it to an active form that we can use in the body. About 10-15 minutes of sun exposure per day is needed if you are fair skinned but longer if you are darker skinned. This needs to be time without sun cream on. Sun cream blocks vitamin D production so spend a little time out with none on before you cream up. In the UK this only works between March and October as this is when the sun is strong enough. From October to march you need to rely on food sources or take a supplement to top up your levels.
Food sources include oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel. It is in their bones so you need to blend these up in a pate or dip to get the most benefit. It can also be found in eggs and mushrooms or other fortified food such as some dairy, powdered milks or cereals. When all is considered if you don’t eat oily fish often then topping up with food can be difficult to ensure adequate levels. Plus when you couple that with people who live in Scotland, where the sun doesn’t shine as much as we would like, your vitamin D levels are likely to be lower than we would prefer.
So, just why is vitamin D important? Well, it is needed for good…
- Bones – It is needed for normal bone development and maintenance as it regulates calcium (and another element called phosphorus) levels in the body. It is therefore not only really important for children and teenagers but also older individuals to help prevent osteoporosis.
- Immunity – Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system. Considerable research suggests it enhances part of the immune system and inhibits part that can lead to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes.
- Blood pressure regulation – it’s a complicated system by which low vitamin D levels may increase the production of a substance that constricts blood vessel walls. Research is ongoing.
- Cancer prevention – Vitamin D inhibits rapidly dividing cells and stimulates cells to change into the types of cells that we need to function. Low levels of vitamin D have been found to increase the number of rapidly dividing cells and therefore increase the risk of bowel and breast cancer in particular.
- Insulin secretion – research is ongoing but so far suggest a link between low levels of vitamin D with altered insulin secretion and poor tolerance to glucose in those with type 2 diabetes.
There are some more serious signs of deficiency and some less so, they include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle or joint / bone pain
This is where it links to non-specific low back pain. Lack of vitamin D is linked to muscle weakness. Your low back has multiple small muscles that stabilise it and make it stronger to cope with the strains of daily life. However, if the muscles are weaker there is less support for your spine and therefore the joints are effectively having to weight bear more because the muscles are not taking the pressure off. This extra pressure on the joints can lead to pain as there is increased load on them.
Now, unfortunately you can’t just go out and take loads of vitamin D because it is a fat soluble vitamin which is therefore stored by your body and hence can reach toxic levels. Getting more sun is an obvious easy fix but only 10-15 minutes per day as there is always the concern of too much sun exposure increasing the risk of skin cancer. If you are in any doubt or have any skin issues or concerns please ensure you speak to your GP before you do this. Your GP can also test your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test.
The absolute safest way to ensure you have good vitamin D levels is to eat vitamin D rich food or to take a supplement. If you think you are deficient in it then supplementation is the only effective way to boost it. There are a great many different strengths of supplement available so the best advice is for you to seek professional help for your individual circumstance by seeing a nutritional therapist. If you would like to book a session or would like further information please do not hesitate to contact The Food Physio.