Vitamin D is the general term given to a group of cholesterol-based hormones that maintain healthy levels of calcium, magnesium and phosphate balance in your blood and bones. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Vitamin D promotes optimal bone density and influences just about every cellular process in the body including DNA Replication.
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the best source of vitamin D and as little as 10 minutes per day of sun exposure either in the early morning (from sunrise to 9am) or in the early afternoon/evening (from 4:30pm to sunset) will allow you to produce the necessary levels of vitamin D. In fact, after regular sun exposure, people under the age of 50 can produce and store approximately 6 months’ worth of vitamin D, so vitamin D stored in the body is available during the winter when production is minimal (Holick 1996).
Please keep in mind: Solariums should never be used to boost vitamin D, as they emit dangerous levels of UV that increase the risk of skin cancer.
Daily exercise and eating a balance diet containing regular serves of fish (Salmon, sardines, mackerel), cod liver oil, eggs, soft cheeses, full fat yogurt and full fat unhomogenised milk, will also help keep your Vitamin D at a healthy level.
You may have an increased risk of low vitamin D if you:
- Naturally have very dark skin – the pigment in skin (melanin) acts as a filter to UVB (ultraviolet B) radiation and reduces the amount of vitamin D that the body makes in the skin.
- Have very little or no sun exposure – such as older adults – especially people who are frail, in medium-to-long-term residential or aged care, or housebound.
- Wear covering clothing for religious and cultural reasons.
- Deliberately avoid all sun exposure for cosmetic or health reasons.
- Have been hospitalised or institutionalised for long periods.
- Are in an occupation with little sun exposure – office workers, taxi drivers, factory workers or night-shift workers.
It is important for pregnant and breast feeding women to remember babies get their initial store of vitamin D from their mothers and if you are low in Vitamin D then your breast milk will contain very little Vitamin D. If you have low vitamin D (or had low vitamin D during pregnancy) then your baby is also at risk of low vitamin D. It is very important to make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D during your pregnancy and while breastfeeding your baby.
You can identify if you have low vitamin D by a simple blood test, your GP will be able to order this for you and it should be covered by Medicare.
Signs of Low Vitamin D levels include:
- Weight gain
- Constant Fatigue
- General muscle pain and weakness
- Joint pain
- Muscle cramps
- High blood pressure
- Disturbed or Restless sleep
- Poor concentration
Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to play a role in many diseases. This includes:
- Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- High blood pressure
- Up to 17 types of Cancer (including breast, prostate and colon)
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Multiple sclerosis
- Infertility and PMS
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
It is important to remember many people remain asymptomatic despite low levels of Vitamin D, so if you feel you are in the risk group, you should have a blood test every 6 months to check your levels.
If you find you have low vitamin D levels there are some very basic lifestyle changes you can make to increase your levels without the needs for supplements.
First try increasing your exposure to sunlight (as per paragraph 2 of this article), increase your consumption of vitamin D containing foods and try to get 30mins of moderate exercise 3 times a week, this can be as simple as a 30 minute early morning walk outside (you get your sun exposure and exercise at the same time).
If you feel you need assistance or advise on your exercise and diet plan, The Ashgrove Spinal Centre’s Chiropractor, Dr Bailey, is more than happy to provide more individual assistance to suit your personal health needs.
If you feel supplements are important to make sure you are taking the right kind.
Supplemental vitamin D comes in two forms:
- Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) – is the form of vitamin D found in plants or fungus/yeast-derived products, and it was first produced in the early 1920s by exposing foods to ultraviolet light (Wolpowitz & Gilchrest, 2006).
- Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) – is the form of vitamin D found in animals. It is produced when your skin is exposed to the UVB rays of sunlight.
The two types differ in the following ways:
- According to the latest research (Wolpowitz, & Gilchrest, 2006), D3 is approximately 87 percent more potentin raising and maintaining vitamin D concentrations and produces 2 to 3 times greater storage of vitamin D than does D2.
- Vitamin D3 is more effective at raising and maintaining the vitamin D blood test (again, D2 binds less tightly to the vitamin D receptors in the body; therefore, D2 does not circulate as long in the body, which means it has a shorter half-life).
- Regardless of which form you use, your body must convert it into a more active form, and vitamin D3 is converted 500 percent faster than vitamin D2.
- Vitamin D3 may be less toxic than D2 because higher concentrations of D2 circulate in the blood when consumed (compared to vitamin D3). It does not bind as well to the receptors in the human tissues compared to vitamin D3.
- Vitamin D2 also has a shorter shelf life, and its metabolites bind poorly with proteins, further hampering its effectiveness. It can be effected by outside influences temperature, humidity, and storage. This is perhaps why the amount of vitamin D2 in certain fortified food products have been significantly lower than that advertised on the label in numerous instances.
As the above has shown it is very important that if you decide to take Vitamin D supplements that you ensure you are taking a Vitamin D3 supplement. Although Dr Bailey still highly recommends sunlight, exercise and diet should be addressed before supplements are considered.