I love Autumn.
However, I am not such a fan of what comes after.
With the clock changing to winter time recently we are all really feeling that the winter rhythm is here. Short days and long nights … and not so much sunshine on our skin.
So it feels like a good time of year to talk about “The Sunshine Vitamin” … Vitamin D.
Many of us feel really good after a spell out in the sun … but it is more than that, the sun is truly nourishing you. Vitamin D is naturally synthesised in our bodies when we are out and about with our skin exposed to sunlight. A free health kick!! Most people in the world meet at least some of their Vitamin D needs through the sunlight. However, season, time of day, length of day and sunscreen use are some of the factors that effect UV radiation synthesis and therefore Vitamin D manufacture. So Spring and Summer are months not the same as Autumn and Winter months for making Vitamin D in your body. Especially the further you go away from the equator (shorter days in Winter).
The thing is we need Vitamin D all year round. And there are many of us who are at risk of low levels of Vitamin D whether it is Summer or Winter. So let’s learn a little about this important micronutrient.
What does Vitamin D do?
Firstly, it is a fat-soluble vitamin and you have probably heard that it is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Yup, it is. It helps Calcium absorption from the gut and so working in tandem with Calcium you have one of the vital components for strong bones and teeth.
But Vitamin D helps regulate lots of different pathways in your body. It helps reduce inflammation. It has roles in neuro-muscular function and also in immune function. Vitamin D is not a one-trick pony!
So if you are low in this micronutrient, many pathways are missing a vital “cog” in their function. And so cannot perform daily housekeeping to their full potential.
Who is at risk of low levels of Vitamin D?
Aside from the time of year, there are some demographics that are at risk of low levels all year around:
Those who are housebound (for whatever reason that may be)
Those who are in care homes.
For individuals who cover most of their skin with clothes when outdoors. This may be due to religious reasons.
If you have dark skin you may be at risk of low levels of Vitamin D.
Some medical conditions that limit fat absorption in the gut: Crohns Disease, Celiac Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Cystic Fibrosis.
Those over 70 years of age.
These are some of the groups which need to particularly vigilant of their Vitamin D levels. However, aside from these groups, just taking a look at your own lifestyle and general health status is important too. Research has shown that those who are obese have three times higher prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency. Do you have a BMI of over 30?
Do you work a nightshift? When do you get time in the sun in Spring/Summer months? Are you working in an office 9-5 and spending very little times outdoors? You can not magically transport your office desk to a park and you are perhaps tied into a nightshift contract … so where else can you get Vitamin D?
Where can you get this micronutrient apart from the Sun?
Food. You can get some sources of Vitamin D from some foods … but it is not an extensive list.
Oily fish – mackeral, salmon, sardines
Fortified Foods – breakfast cereals and some milks are fortified.
So the first thing I notice with this list is that is gonna be limited for vegetarians and even more limited for vegans. Those of you with this particular dietary choice need to be vigilant of Vitamin D levels too. Imagine if you are a night-shift worker, you have Celiac Disease and are a vegan. So potentially very little sunshine (job) and very limited on food sources (vegan), plus it being difficult for you to absorb from the gut. You may need to think about a supplement!
Should I take a supplement?
There are plenty of Vitamin D supplements on the market out there. I am not going to recommend any one brand or any one dosage. Really, you need to look at your own lifestyle and with your best judgement decide if a supplement might be of benefit for you. You may want to chat with your GP about this.
But it is just a supplement I hear you say!
Well in high levels in the body, Vitamin D is toxic. So you need to be mindful of how much you are taking if you decide to supplement. Plus, this micronutrient can interact with certain prescribed medications, so again, you need to look at your own circumstances and apply best judgement. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Can I get a test to see what my levels of Vitamin D are?
Yes. You can get a test to check levels. If you feel this is something you would like to do, considering your circumstances, your GP can arrange this for you. Pop in and discuss it with your doctor.
You can also get a private test with private companies. However, it is important to note with private companies they only come back to you with the figure. This will show you if you are in the adequate range, inadequate or deficient range etc. They do not advise you on what to do next if you get a result that is below the desirable level. So in this case you may want to take this result to a health care professional and get their advice as to how to build your levels up safely and maintain good levels thereafter.
There are many companies offering this private service. I recommend this service from the NHS in the UK, click here to learn more.
What about Vitamin D and COVID19?
At the beginning of this blog I mentioned the many roles Vitamin D has in your body … one of them being a role in immune function. Vitamin D is a vital micronutrient for a well-functioning healthy body. A well-functioning healthy body (and immune system) is in a better position to fight off any invader … be it the flu or whatever. However there is not enough research on the interactions between Vitamin D and COVID19, simply because it is a new virus.
That being said, there is some research out there that is building solid groundwork and very promising! One study published last month (September 2020) looked at retrospective data from almost 200,000 people and exmained at the association between positive COVID19 rates and Vitamin D levels. They found that positive COVID19 is strongly and inversely associated with circulatory Vitamin D levels. Which means they found that when you had high levels of circulating Vitamin D you had low positive COVID19 and vice versa. The important word in this is association. There is a strong connection, it is not causative. They also found the result was consistent across ethnicity, gender, age and other factors. So the result was not exclusive to one demographic.
Another Irish study looked at the potential implications of COVID19 severity and Vitamin D status across Europe. They conclude by stating that there is a strong argument to be made for the supportive role of Vitamin D status in COVID19 and the data is continuing to emerge. As promising as all that sounds, good research takes time, funding and consistency. National health bodies will generally not give recommendations based on just a few studies. They need tons of consistent evidence before it becomes public health advice.
But … that being said … when I was researching for this blog I looked at what was being recommended in different countries by different national health bodies. The NHS recommends that all its citizens over 4 years of age supplement with Vitamin D. This is just regular advice. Very interestingly they also state that due to the change in activities and movements because of COVID19 this year you should be particularly attentive of this micronutrient levels as you may have not gotten your typical sun exposure over the Spring/Summer months. Read more on the NHS website here.
Finally, I also found an interesting report from TILDA – The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging. This is a long, large and broad ranging research study on the health of over 50s in Ireland. They produced a special report on Vitamin D, COVID 19 and the potential benefits of adequate levels of this micronutrient to the older population. It is a long report so to read it pop over here. I will leave you with the concluding statement, which was a strong one.
“Vitamin D is a potent immune modifying micronutrient and if Vitamin D status is sufficient, it could benefit vulnerable adults, in particular those over 70+ who are cocooning during the COVID19 outbreak”.
I hope this blog gives you food for thought on this vital micronutrient, its potential role in COVID19 and perhaps on your health status in general. As we move into Winter months keep in mind that a well-functioning, well nourished and balanced body is a strong, resilient one.
The information provided here is not intended to replace individual medical advice. This blog is not an exhaustive list on Vitamin D research and does not cover every aspect of the roles Vitamin D fulfils in the body, it is designed to give you an outline. If you have any questions regarding the above information or if you wish to book an appointment with me, please contact me here, message me on Facebook or on 087 1815007.
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(Credit to Pixabay and Pexels for images.)