Despite all the press about vitamin D3, most of us have chosen to ignore the findings and hope we have sufficient levels in the bloodstream. Most of us don’t. In fact, according to the Department of Health, as much as 25 percent of the population has a vitamin D deficiency – and scientists estimate that this figure is actually low and could be nearer 60 percent.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is not strictly a vitamin. A vitamin is a compound that cannot be produced by the body and since vitamin D is produced in the skin, as a result of exposure to sunlight, it is more accurately described as a hormone. Although we are capable of producing vitamin D, we rarely make sufficient levels due to the latitude we live in and the fact that we constantly being told to wear sunscreens, which of course block sunlight.
Small amounts of vitamin D is found in fortified foods including milk, cereals, oily fish and juices, but this amount is too small to make any significant difference. In fact, it is estimated that we would need to drink 20 glasses of milk everyday to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D.
Why vitamin D is important
Vitamin D has recently make headlines due to the surge of studies and articles showing its multi-faceted role within our bodies and the widespread deficiencies that exist in the population. While it was once thought to only maintain healthy calcium and phosphorus levels required for bone production, recent studies indicate that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to a variety of chronic health concerns, including optimal immune function, diabetes, depression and even cell mutation. I am going to briefly explain its role for these concerns.
Numerous studies indicate the link between healthy vitamin D levels and a strong immune system. A group of Danish scientists believe they may have found the reasoning behind this. Their study found that a group of special cells, called “T-cells” are critical for immune defence and are dependent upon adequate levels of vitamin D in the blood. When a T-cell is exposed to a foreign bacteria and virus, it sends a signalling device known as a vitamin D receptor. If there is vitamin D deficiency in the blood then this T-cell remains dormant and cannot attack the bacteria/virus.
Studies show a relationship between vitamin D and type 2 diabetes. It is thought that vitamin D plays a role in both the regulation and release of insulin. Vitamin D deficiency results in less insulin production leading to higher blood sugar levels. Smaller studies have indicated that vitamin D supplementation actually reduces high blood sugar levels, so this is very encouraging news for those who have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D’s role in depression and anxiety is not fully understood, however we do know that vitamin D receptors exist in the brain. In animal studies, we know that vitamin D increases serotonin levels in the brain and this effect is thought to be replicated in humans helping to improve mood and a sense of wellbeing.
Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in the development of cancer. The biggest correlation seems to be low vitamin D levels and the development of prostate, breast and colon cancers. More investigation is needed to discover how best to use this information.
There is a strong relationship between low levels of vitamin D and increased periodontal disease, including gingivitis and tooth loss. Scientists believe that this may be due to the fact that vitamin D may exert anti-inflammatory effects.
People in northern climates experience more heart attacks and growing evidence suggests that low levels of vitamin D may represent a significant but yet unknown contributor to heart disease. Ensuring optimal levels of vitamin D may be one of the ways to prevent and treat coronary disease.
Multiple Sclerosis appears more commonly in northern regions where we are naturally exposed to less sunlight. It is generally accepted that the geographical distribution of Multiple Sclerosis indicates that people who do not get as much sun have a higher risk of MS. There is strong evidence to suggest that vitamin D supplementation will be of benefit and this may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having an impact on auto-immune activity.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterised by reduced bone mineral density and an increased risk of bone fractures. Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, performs several key functions in the prevention of osteoporosis. Firstly, it increases both calcium and phosphorus absorption from food in the intestines. Secondly, Vitamin D3 promotes the re-absorption of calcium in the kidneys allowing more calcium back into the bloodstream. Vitamin D3 also inhibits the release of parathyroid hormone (PTH) and this is significant since PTH stimulates osteoclasts which are bone cells that break down bone tissues. Without sufficient Vitamin D, the body will not be able to get sufficient calcium from food into the bloodstream.
Five reasons why vitamin D deficiency in the UK needs to be addressed
- Cases of childhood rickets have risen 400 percent since 1996. This dramatic rise is something that has been debated recently in the House of Commons.
- The Department of Health has identified four key at risk groups for whom the chief medical officer has recommended supplementation as being essential: the under 5’s, the elderly, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with darker skin pigmentation.
- For six months of the year there is insufficient UVB radiation for the human body to synthesise vitamin D.
- The UK is more northerly that we think. It is actually equal to the Alaskan panhandle!
- The UK is one of the cloudiest countries in the industrialised world.
How much vitamin D should we be taking?
An amazing amount of research has and is still being carried out on this vital vitamin. We now know that vitamin D has a role well beyond that of being concerned with calcium absorption and bone growth. We also know that vitamin D receptors have been found in over 50 organs and sites within the body, which means that the body’s requirements are greater than we initially thought.
The recommended dosages of vitamin D, set many years ago at between 200iu and 400iu, were based on the amount of vitamin D in a teaspoon of cod liver oil, and still remain the basis in spite of all the publicity on vitamin D deficiency. We know from several studies that this dose is out by a factor of approximately 10 meaning that ideally we should be taking between 2000iu and 4000iu per day.
A healthy and balanced diet can at the maximum supply us with 10 percent of the recommended daily amount and actually for the majority, our diets only supply us with 5 percent of the recommended daily amounts. This leaves a 95 percent deficiency of vitamin D in our bloodstream.
What is the most effective way to take vitamin D?
With such high levels of deficiency, can we really afford not to take vitamin D supplements? The simple answer is no and I would recommend that all adults take D-Lux 3000 Spray by Better You during the winter months and change to D Lux 1000 Spray during the summer months. This particular supplement is an oral spray and allows for vitamin D to be absorbed sublingually into the bloodstream avoiding the gastrointestinal route, which always results in lesser absorption of any nutrient. However, there any plenty of options worth exploring to boost your levels of vitamin D.