The sun is shining, the sky is crystal blue and the air is warm against our semi-naked skin. The world suddenly becomes a bit brighter, more colourful, and we want to relax and enjoy our free time; this means only one thing: the spirit of summer has arrived!
The abundant supply of the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ otherwise known as vitamin D carries some interesting facts.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies produce when the skin is exposed to the sun. It helps the body to absorb crucial minerals more effectively, among a host of other health benefits. Vitamin D is one of the essential vitamins needed to maintain good health.
Here are 10 things that you need to know about this crucial vitamin:
- 1. The best sources of vitamin D
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, when it comes in to contact with our skin. The cholesterol in our skin cells absorbs UVB rays, converting it into pre-vitamin D3. Some studies show that the best time to expose yourself to the sun is around midday.
Although present in very few foods, fatty fish like salmon mackerel and tuna are all excellent sources. Other diet sources, containing lesser vitamin D, include cheese, egg yolks, and even mushrooms. Foods fortified with vitamin D can also add to providing the needed amounts.
People who are not getting enough vitamin D from the above sources can take vitamin D supplements. This is especially true during the winter months. A good supplement will contain vitamin D3 in its most natural form, similar to what the body makes from sunshine.
- 2. Benefits of vitamin D
In establishing that vitamin D is crucial for health, what exactly does it do? This essential vitamin helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus more effectively, keeping the bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.
The sunshine vitamin boosts immunity, helping prevent viral infections like colds & flu. This might also be the reason why many believe it to offer some protective qualities against the Corona Virus. Studies have shown that people with deficiencies suffer more respiratory illnesses.
If you are trying to lose weight, you might want to check your vitamin D levels. A study published by the British Journal of Nutrition showed that obese women who took a daily supplement of calcium and vitamin D shed weight faster than those who didn’t.
- 3. Recommended daily amounts
The NHS recommends that people should get vitamin D sunshine between the months of April-September. Studies have shown that in the UK, exposing skin* to the unprotected sun for thirteen minutes around midday, several times a week, is good enough to give the required amount in adults. Darker-skinned people may require up to 3 to 6 times more.
During the winter months of October to March, it is not as easy to access enough Vitamin D from sunlight. Public Health England (PHE) recommends that supplementation of ten micrograms per day (a microgram is sometimes Greek symbolised as mg) should be considered, to be taken by all adults and children over the age of 1.
*arms, legs, abdomen & back
- 4. What happens when you have a vitamin D deficiency?
A vitamin D deficiency can cause reduced bone density, muscle aches, and pain, resulting in osteoporosis. Children who have insufficient vitamin D levels can develop rickets, a disease that softens, and bends bones.
People with vitamin D deficiency are also likely to be depressed and moody.
- 5. Can you have too much vitamin D
The NHS warns that taking too much vitamin D can result in calcium build up in the body, weakening bones and damaging the kidneys. You should monitor the amounts one is accessing through their diet, exposure to sunshine, and supplementation.
Overexposure of skin to the sun can lead to some cancers and other skin problems like sunburn and aging.
- 6. Some people need more vitamin D than others
1 in 5 people in the UK are low in vitamin D.
Everyone can access sufficient amounts of vitamin D via sources already discussed. For some though, who are housebound for reasons such as illness; and those above the age of 65, who spend more time indoors, and where the skin starts to thin, so the synthesis becomes less efficient, they may be vitamin D deficient.
People with darker skin may also be at risk of deficiency as the melanin in their skin reduces the absorption of UV rays, which means they must expose their skin for longer to the sun, increase their diet of vitamin D enriched foods and/or take supplementation. Expectant or breastfeeding women also need to supplement their daily amounts.
- 7. There are different types of vitamin D
Vitamin D comes mainly in two forms, D2 and D3. D2, which is mainly man-made (known as ergocalciferol), produced in plants, primarily wild mushrooms grown under UV light and added to fortified foods.
Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is the natural form made by the skin upon exposure to sunlight. It is also found in foods such as fish, eggs, and dairy, which is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. Recent advancements in science now mean that Vitamin D3 is available through plant-sourced supplementation, such as our chewable Vegan Vitamin D3.
- 8. What can prevent vitamin D production
Sunscreen contains chemicals that protect the skin from direct exposure to UV light. This means that in effect, it prevents the sun’s rays from reaching the surface quickly to produce vitamin D. Even an SPF 8 can block up to 98 percent of vitamin D intake.
The suns rays that produce Vitamin D cannot penetrate glass. If in your home, car, or office and the sun is shining, you aren’t topping up your vitamin D.
- 9. Pair vitamin D with other nutrients for more benefits
Vitamin D and calcium are the perfect partners for bone health. Our bodies need calcium to build strong bones, enable clotting and muscle contraction. Vitamin D is responsible for transporting this calcium round the body and enhancing its absorption.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means that it needs fat to be effectively absorbed in the body. Pair vitamin D rich foods with olive oil, avocados, or nuts to boost its bio-availability.
- 10. Vitamin D and Mood
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder featuring depressive symptoms, occurs during the dark times of the year when there is relatively little sunshine, coinciding with the sudden drop in vitamin D levels in the body. Several studies have suggested that the symptoms of SAD may be due to changing levels of vitamin D3, which may affect serotonin levels in the brain.
Various studies confirm the link between low vitamin D and mental illness. These studies provide evidence that optimising vitamin D levels may improve positive psychological well-being.