As winter nears, Rishi Nursimloo reports on the importance of vitamin D
What is vitamin D and why is it important?
Vitamin D (known as calciferol) is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that your body can store extra amounts of vitamin D for long periods of time.
It is responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and is imperative to an array of biological effects. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 and D2.
The benefits of vitamin D are well established – it plays a large role within calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism (in preventing rickets) and osteomalacia, a bone disorder within children in adults that results from a lack of vitamin D. Following this, vitamin D also helps us protect against osteoporosis.
Alongside the strong evidence of the vitamin on bone health, information suggests prevention of the risks of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. However, more studies are needed to draw any firm conclusions in this area.
Vitamin D deficiency affects almost 50 per cent of the population worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups.
Risk factors of vitamin D deficiency can be subdivided into three categories:
1. Modifiable –
Sunscreen use and low vitamin D intake, less time outdoors, or those who cover up when outdoors.
Note: your body can’t make vitamin D if you are sitting indoors by a sunny window, because ultraviolet B rays (UVB) cannot penetrate glass.
2. Non-modifiable –
Skin colour and age: higher pigmentation reduces vitamin D production in the skin, and our ability to create vitamin D drops as we get older.
3. Non-patient –
Geographical location and season (living further away from the equator reduces intake)
How do dietary sources of vitamin D influence intake?
Vitamin D is not found naturally in most commonly consumed foods, so deficiency isn’t only a problem recurrent in vegans – it affects the UK population as a whole.
Public Health England (PHE) advised the UK government in 2016, that everyone needs vitamin D equivalent to an average daily intake of 10 micrograms. The recommendation is parallel to those of the Scientific Adisory Comittee on Nutrition (SACN).
Consuming foods to meet this advise would be difficult, and so, during the winter months, the UK population should consider a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Speak to your GP, pharmacist, or local health visitor for more information.