We can often see articles highlighting studies about Vitamin D. The last I read was in relation to Vitamin D and the resilience against Covid 19.
So why is Vitamin D important for our health? What is it? How can we get enough? What happens if we don’t have enough?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone. Steroid hormones help control, among other functions, inflammation and the ability to withstand illness and injury.
– Strong bones: Vitamin D increases calcium and phosphate levels in the blood – the key ingredients to make strong bones.
– Modulation of the immune system. Studies suggested that vitamin D possesses antiviral activity. In winter there is less sunlight exposure, especially in northern countries. The related reduction in vitamin D levels is thought to be partly responsible for the winter flu, in addition to reduced social distancing in the winter months.
– Depression: Researchers have found that vitamin D also helps to protect from serotonin depletion. For this reason, low vitamin D levels increase an individual’s risk of depression significantly. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression caused by lack of sunshine.
How do we get Vitamin D?
– Sun: About 90% of our body’s vitamin D is made in our skin from sunshine falling on it. So vitamin D deficiency and poor exposure to sun result in weak bones. In the past, children working in the mines did not see sunlight much and so they developed rickets.
– Diet: A well balanced diet is important, independently if you are meat eater, vegetarian, or vegan. But no matter how healthy our diet, we’re unlikely to get enough vitamin D (especially in autumn and winter) – so do we need a boost?
Not enough Vitamin D?
Public Health England (PHE) recommends that everyone over one year should take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D from around the end of September to early April. If you don’t get outside much, or if you cover up for religious reasons or have darker skin, you should take it all year round. Dairy products, seeds, pulses, tofu, oily fish, and some green leafy vegetables are all good sources. Interestingly, calcium supplements don’t appear to help much, and recent research suggests they may actually increase the risk of heart attack, so doctors are much more wary about prescribing these too.
How much is too much?
Many people don’t realise that you can have too much of a good thing. In very high doses, many minerals (like iron) and vitamins can harm your body. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so your body can store it for months and you don’t need it every day. That means you could equally safely take a supplement of 20 micrograms a day or 500 micrograms once a month. Always follow the advice of the doctor or pharmacist.
Sunlight is important but too much sunshine can be disastrous for your health. In spring and summer, you can get your vitamin D from 15 to 20 minutes a day with arms and face uncovered in full sun. But don’t get burnt – this raises the risk of all kinds of skin cancer, but particularly of deadly melanoma.
How you can help yourself
– Eat a well-balanced diet and take supplements during the winter months. Sunlight may not be enough up here in the north because the sunlight is not strong enough.
– Keep your bones strong with weight-bearing exercise. This is key for preventing thinning bones. Anything except swimming counts – a walk in the park, a bicycling, or putting music on and dancing in the kitchen.
At Swissphysio we are happy to advise you and create an exercise program tailored for you.Published on: 5th November 2020