Why is Vitamin D important for health?
Vitamin D plays a role in a number of fundamental functions in our bodies. These include absorbing calcium, supporting bone and teeth health and cell growth.
You might know about the link between Vitamin D deficiency and rickets (which is called osteomalacia in adults). Rickets is a condition which affects the bones. It causes them to become soft and weak, often leading to deformities and fractures. In fact, Vitamin D3 was first recognised when scientists were trying to work out why cod liver oil was so effective in dealing with rickets. But our bones are not the only parts of our bodies that rely on enough Vitamin D.
Lack of Vitamin D has also been linked to muscle weakness, fatigue, and even mental health. Studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to an impaired immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections. Vitamin D receptors in our brains help brain cells receive and understand chemical signals – a lack of Vitamin D is likely to affect the way our brain communicates.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
A healthy diet might not be enough to keep your Vitamin D levels boosted all year round. 90% of the Vitamin D our bodies need comes from getting out in the sunlight and only 10% is from diet choices. Even if you eat fortified foods, you could be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. If your routine and lifestyle keeps you away from sunlight, look out for these symptoms:
The so-called happy hormone (serotonin) falls with lack of sun exposure. If you feel low or irritable, it could be a sign.
If you are over 50, you lose some of your natural ability to produce Vitamin D from sun exposure. Your kidneys also become less efficient at converting the vitamin. Stay active and spend plenty of time outside in your 50s, 60s, and beyond.
If you have recently become overweight or obese, this could be a sign of low Vitamin D. Heavier people will also need more Vitamin D than a lighter person. This is true if you are heavy due to muscle mass. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, any gut problem which affects your ability to absorb fat could also impact your Vitamin D levels. Something to be aware of if you have IBD, Crohn’s, celiac, or gluten sensitivity.
Achy bones and joints
Vitamin D deficiency affects bone health, and can result in a throbbing or achy feeling in your bones. This is often most noticeable in the knees and back. People who don’t have enough of this important vitamin can develop rickets. Lack of vitamin D also plays a role in osteoporosis, bone pain, and an increased risk of fractures.
A common sign of Vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty scalp (this is one reason newborn babies are monitored for head sweats). A sweaty scalp could be an early sign of Vitamin D deficiency.
If you think you are at risk, ask your Doctor for a blood test to assess your Vitamin D levels. With your Doctor’s support, start taking a quality Vitamin D3 supplement to meet UK Government guidelines.
Are you at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Our bodies can only make Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to enough sunlight. So if you don’t get outside much, have dark skin, or like to cover up, you are naturally at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Are you at risk of low levels of Vitamin D?
- Vegans can have low levels of Vitamin D, because most natural sources are animal based. Pay extra attention to your diet, and eat fortified foods (cereals, soya milk, almond milk, and orange juice) and take a quality Vitamin D supplement.
- Limited sunlight exposure can put you at risk. If you are housebound for any reason, if you live in a grey climate, or if you cover your skin for work, lifestyle or religious reasons, your skin might not get enough sunlight.
- People with darker skin are naturally at risk. The pigment in your skin will reduce your ability to make Vitamin D, even if you get plenty of sunlight. Older adults with dark skin are particularly at risk.
How to increase your Vitamin D levels
If you think you or someone you care for is at risk of low Vitamin D, there’s plenty you can do. Fortify the diet with natural sources of Vitamin D, and take a daily Vitamin D supplement. If possible, get out in the sunshine more. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to health problems, so ask your GP about Vitamin D testing and treatment to avoid illnesses related to Vitamin D loss.
Ward off risk of Vitamin D deficiency with a daily supplement. Experts recommend 400–800 IU/day to maintain good health. But if you think your Vitamin D levels are low, seek advice from a medical professional. Your physical and mental health needs enough Vitamin D.