Our concern of skin cancer through sun exposure has lead us to cover up resulting in us not getting adequate vitamin D from sun exposure. This is impacting our health in many ways. Vitamin D deficiency can affect our immune system, respiratory system (especially incidences of asthma) depression, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and even cancer. Vitamin D helps lower our blood pressure and helps to keep us calm and less anxious. It has even been shown to help the body break down the stubborn fat cells.
It was not that many years ago where you would spend time outside everyday in order to recover from an illness. They weren’t mad – when you see the enormous list of benefits of vitamin D, including boost the immune system and fighting infection, it is a principle we should all re-adopt. Our fear of exposing ourselves to UVA we have forgotten that we need UVB – and interestingly, exposure to UVB can help protect us a little from UVA rays. We spend all our time indoors with artificial lighting, stuck in our offices or place of work all day long and wonder why we suffer from ill health.
We can of course take a supplement or even get some vitamin D from foods but studies have shown that the conversion from sunlight is much more powerful and has more of an impact to health. Marks and Spencer’s recently made the headlines when they introduced their Vitamin D rich Mushrooms. Vitamin D is also found in oily fish, eggs and can be added to cereals and spreads. There is of course no harm at all in using any of these, but I would still advise we get out in the sun more. I occasionally use vitamin D supplementation in my practice but prefer vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) form to vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) as I feel it absorbs better.
Vitamin D has always been associated with helping us absorb calcium and has been used to help treat a variety of conditions including osteoporosis but what is not so well-known is you also need magnesium to help absorb and utilize calcium efficiently. It would be quite rare to find someone in the western world that was deficient in calcium but we often find deficiencies in magnesium, especially in women. For this reason I would always recommend a good quality multivitamin rich in magnesium citrate alongside vitamin D to help aid calcium absorption, particularly for women approaching and following the menopause.
There is a huge amount of research and evidence to support the use of vitamin D for a wide range of mental health issues, from mild mood right through to schizophrenia. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) responds well to the use of Vitamin D supplementation alongside daily exposure of at least 20 minutes to the sun. A Dutch study of 1282 people aged between 65 and 95 noted higher levels of depression amongst those with the lowest levels of vitamin D. There is also some interesting research in the prevention of postnatal depression.
Vitamin D is a very underestimated vitamin. It has far reaching health implications so I would advise everyone to try to spend a little more time outside and to increase their consumption of oily fish (as this is also packed with fabulous essential fatty acids).
Sarah Flower is a leading Nutritionist and Author. www.sarahflower.co.uk