We know that Vitamin D is good for us, yes? And the skin makes it after exposure to the sun? Well, Vitamin D is actually considered more of a hormone, than a vitamin. This is because it is produced in one part of the body, and released into the blood stream to benefit other parts. It is a fat soluble substance, which comes in several forms, the main one being Vitamin D3. Tiny amounts are found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and sardines. It’s also in eggs, butter and beef. Cod liver oil contains good amounts. However, the liver and kidneys need to convert Vitamin D from food sources to its active form. Digestive issues such as gall bladder, liver or kidney dysfunction can prevent its uptake into the body. Medications can also interfere with Vitamin D absorption. These include cholesterol lowering drugs, anti-epileptic drugs, some blood pressure medication (calcium channel blockers), steroids and antacids. The best way to source Vitamin D is when the skin produces it after exposure to the sun. The more skin exposed, the more Vitamin D is produced. However, healthy liver and kidney function is still required to assist conversion to its active form. Despite our hot Summers, many people are still Vitamin D deficient. The reason for this is the use of sunscreens; did you know that any product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of above 8 completely blocks out Vitamin D production on the skin! So Factor 15, 40 or higher is not always beneficial. To avoid sunburn, the best way to get your Vitamin D from the Summer sun is in the early or late hours of the day. At these times, between 8-11am or 2-5pm take a break from the sunscreen to allow a little exposure for short periods of 20 minutes or less.
Why is it good for me? Bone formation: Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium and phosphorus from our foods to maintain good levels for bone cell building. It directs these minerals to the parts of the body that need it most. Babies and children women have increased requirements to support growth of healthy bones, nails and teeth. Menopausal women also need it to prevent osteoporosis in later life. Other important Vitamin D functions:
- It helps the pancreas to produce insulin for blood sugar regulation.
- It helps to maintain muscle strength.
- Enhances immune system function. This helps protect against respiratory infections.
- Winter depression (known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) is thought to be due to lower levels of sun exposure.
Could I have a deficiency?
Deficiency symptoms include:
- Poor appetite
- Burning sensation in mouth and throat
- Visual disturbances
- Rickets/osteomalacia (softer bones)
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
How do I ensure I am getting enough Vitamin D?
A maintenance dose of 1000IU capsule per day is adequate for supplementation. Higher doses are required for dark skinned people. This is because they don’t make as much Vitamin D in their skin. Pregnant mothers, menopausal and the elderly have higher requirements. It’s best to see your practitioner for further advice as many health conditions require additional dosage. Get outside when the sun comes out to best enhance your levels. In the Winter months, 20 minutes per day is adequate exposure for us in the Southern part of Australia. So get outside everyone! Exercise, fresh air and sun exposure together make for a happier, healthier body. If you would like further advice on safe sun exposure, visit the Cancer Council’s website: http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/vitamin-d/