The Importance Of Vitamin D For Our Health
Vitamin D is absorbed from the sun… But what happens when we live in a country - such as Ireland - where sunshine isn't exactly a daily reality, especially during autumn and the winter months? With that in mind, let's have a look at vitamin D supplementation and its importance.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is technically not a vitamin, but rather a prohormone that is produced in the body when we are exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is a group of vitamins, including Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3, which are mainly found in liver and fish oils, playing an important role in the absorption of calcium, therefore benefitting the body in a number of ways.
Unfortunately for us - Irish folks - we don’t get enough vitamin D due to the lack of sunlight in the Country, and our natural production process is directly compromised.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D has been linked to a vast amount of health benefits due to its ability to influence genetic expression. Here are the reasons why Vitamin D is so important to the human body:
Healthy Bones - Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus within the body, both of which are essential for keeping bones healthy. Lack of Vitamin D in a child can manifest as rickets, and in adults can cause osteomalacia or osteoporosis.
Healthy Muscles - Not only does vitamin D have bone-building abilities, but it also influences strong muscles. Someone with a vitamin D deficiency would have an increased risk of falling and injuring themselves, as muscles are not as strong when they don’t receive adequate amounts of vitamin D. This is especially common among older adults.
Immune System - Vitamin D supports the immune system by fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses. This role has become more important during the Covid-19 pandemic, and researches have been looking into how vitamin D can prevent infection outcomes.
A study of 25 randomised control trials that compared vitamin D supplements to placebo pills, found that vitamin D significantly reduced the risk of acute respiratory infection when the subjects took daily - or even weekly - vitamin D supplements, especially in individuals who were deficient in it.
Mood Booster - Sunlight and vitamin D have been associated with warding off depression symptoms and regulating our mood, which makes sense when you think about how happy we get when the sun comes out! In a study made by the Journal of Internal Medicine, they identified that people who suffer from depression experienced an improvement in their symptoms when they took vitamin D supplements.
Strengthens Oral Health - Vitamin D helps our body to absorb calcium, meaning it plays an important role in supporting oral health by lowering the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Who is at Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Apart from the population living in countries and regions with poor sunlight, some groups are at a higher risk than others when it comes to Vitamin D deficiency:
Older Adults - Unfortunately, as we get older, our skin does not produce vitamin D efficiently. If you also add to the fact that the elderly don’t spend as much time outdoors as they should, it’s easy to understand why they are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Exclusively Breastfeeding Babies - Vitamin D is incredibly important to a newborn's health, and babies who do not receive enough vitamin D in their diet could be at risk of developing rickets. Breast milk alone does not contain a sufficient amount of vitamin D for a growing child, so some doctors do recommend supplementation with vitamin D drops or with formula milk.
People with Darker Skin - The increased amount of melanin pigment reduces the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D, therefore, people with darker skin should look into vitamin D supplementation.
Getting the Right Amount of Vitamin D
Apart from sun exposure, the simplest ways to naturally increase your vitamin D levels are by eating certain foods.
Foods with the best source of vitamin D are fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. You can also get smaller amounts of vitamin D from beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and certain mushrooms.
Getting vitamin D from sunlight is a difficult task when living in Ireland, but during the summer months we can aim to get a few minutes every day of sun exposure: 10 to 30 minutes, 4 to 5 days per week, is enough to keep your levels in check.
If you are curious about your vitamin D levels or believe you are low on vitamin D, talk to your doctor about it.