Vitamin D or the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is made when our skin comes into contact with the sun’s UV rays. Getting this essential vitamin sounds simple enough then, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Vitamin D deficiency worldwide is at an all-time high, estimated to affect at least 1 billion people.
One of the leading causes of this deficiency is inadequate sunlight exposure, particularly in the winter months. Although this vitamin is present in selected foods, this only accounts for 20-30% of our vitamin D intake. To address this inadequacy, the NHS recommends dietary supplements for both children and adults, particularly between October- March.
What is vitamin D, and why is it so important?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin needed by the body to carry out various functions and stay healthy. This vitamin exists in two forms, Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 mainly comes from plants and fortified foods, while D3 is mostly found in animal sources like tuna, salmon, and egg yolk.
Vitamin D has numerous health benefits. One of its most important jobs is to enhance the absorption of calcium by 30 – 40% and Phosphorus by 80%. Without it, only 10-15% of calcium and 60% Phosphorus is absorbed which could make our bones weaker. The tag team of vitamin D and calcium is particularly useful in keeping osteoporosis (loss of bone density leading to brittle bones) at bay. Calcium also supports healthy teeth and lowers the risk of tooth decay.
Vitamin D also keeps the immune system healthy, fighting off viral illnesses and inflammation. Multiple studies show that the sunshine vitamin can reduce the occurrence and impact of respiratory infections such as those associated with COVID 19.
According to the British Journal of Nutrition, Vitamin D can contribute to weight loss, particularly when paired with calcium as this represses appetite.
It's been shown that vitamin D plays a crucial role in brain development, brain function regulation, and a healthy nervous system. A 2013 summit with the leading experts, including physicians and scientists, from across the world unanimous agreed that low vitamin D levels and/or the insufficient utilization of vitamin D can be considered a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia in general and supplementation was needed to correct these levels.
Children, in particular, need sufficient levels of vitamin D for healthy bone growth and development. A deficiency can result in severe health conditions like rickets (softening and weakening bones), muscle weakness, motor development delays, and easy fractures.
To ensure healthy bone growth, the NHS recommends that infants, whether breast or formula-fed, be given daily vitamin D supplements of 8.5 to 10ug. Children between 1-4 years should take 10ug of the supplement daily. One of the biggest reasons for this recommendation is that rickets is most common in children between the ages of 6-24 months due to rapid bone growth during this period. Here you can see the governmental guidelines for vitamin D recommendation.
Vitamin D deficiency and signs to look out for:
Vitamin D deficiency occurs when the body does not get enough of the vitamin to carry out various functions. Some factors that can lead to this deficiency include obesity, kidney and liver disease, age, skin colour, and lack of exposure to the sun.
The NHS recommends that adults and children take supplements to avoid deficiencies, particularly in the winter months. Vitamin D supplements are also advised for certain risk groups, such as those who are house-bound, babies, the elderly, expectant women, and those with, particularly dark skin.
- Fatigue - Have you been feeling overly tired and exhausted without any discernible cause? Low vitamin D levels might be to blame. Multiple studies have shown that people with chronic fatigue also have low vitamin D levels. Where supplements were administered, the symptoms improved after several weeks.
- Constant illness - As seen, Vitamin D boosts the immune system and helps ward off diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Notably, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to respiratory infections. A review of 12 studies, including 2,279 children, found that children with lower respiratory infections (LRTI) had significantly lower vitamin D levels compared with controls. If you or your child are constantly suffering from colds and flu, you might want to check your vitamin D levels.
- Bone and back pain - Vitamin D plays an essential role in building bones, particularly in the absorption of crucial minerals like calcium and phosphorus. People with vitamin D deficiency may suffer from low bone density, leading to osteomalacia (softened bones) in adults and rickets in children. This condition causes severe bone pain and muscle weakness and can be reversed with vitamin D supplements. Studies have also linked back pain in older women to low vitamin D levels.
- Slow healing of wounds - Do you have a wound that is taking longer than expected to heal? You might be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. This vitamin fights inflammation, which can be useful for wound healing. Some studies show that vitamin D can also boost the formation of new skin in the wound-healing process.
- Depression - Have you been feeling a little blue recently? The association between lack of sunlight and depressive disorders was first noted 2,000 years ago. Several studies have been done in relation to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which lowers moods due to low sun exposure. SAD has been linked to low serotonin and melatonin levels, crucial chemicals that determine moods and sleep. Vitamin D receptors have been seen to play a part in the regulation of these hormones. According to the Journal of Neurophysiology, there is a ‘significant relationship between depression and vitamin D deficiency.’
- Low bone density/ Bone loss - Low bone density indicates a lack of calcium. Having low bone density puts you at risk of fractures, instability, muscle weakness and could lead to osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb this crucial mineral and can significantly help in alleviating bone loss.
What are the best forms of Vitamin D?
You may be wondering what form of vitamin D is best for your family. As mentioned above, vitamin D occurs in two forms, Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. When it comes to supplements, chewable Vegan Vitamin D3 is highly recommended, as this is a plant form easily recognized by the body for easy absorption.
Regarding administration, children will likely prefer gummies or chewables that are attractive and easier to be taken than pills.
If taking tablets, capsule or powder forms of Vitamin D, they are best taken with a meal which is high in fats, as this helps increase absorption.
There is also now a shift towards liposomal vitamin D. Liposomals are nutrient forms encapsulated in protective bubbles called liposomes. These bubbles protect nutrients from degradation by gastric juices and stomach acids. This ensures that they are delivered and absorbed by the body faster and more effectively.