Vitamin D deficiency has been described as an epidemic, with reports of low vitamin D levels ranging from 20-75% in the UK. With daylight hours dwindling as we head towards hibernation season, how can you ensure you are getting enough Vitamin D?
Should I be concerned?
The sunshine vitamin acts more like a hormone than a vitamin in the body, so it’s essential for optimum health. It is best known for contributing to good bone health, and preventing osteoporosis and osteopenia. Deficiencies are linked to 17 varieties of cancer, heart disease, obesity, PMS, and even infertility.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause a range of symptoms that might easily be attributed to winter blues. Such as:
Fatigue and chronic fatigue
Low levels of vitamin D are not the same as a deficiency, but could still be a major contributing factor.
But am I at risk?
If you live in the UK, then yes. It is thought that there is not enough sunlight to naturally produce vitamin D between the months of September to late March/early April. So you will need to get this from other sources and consider supplements (Dept. of Health)
The following groups/factors are particularly at risk:
· Lack of Sunlight
If you are avoiding direct sunlight for fear of skin cancer, spend a lot of time indoors, or cover up when outdoors, it’s not possible to get enough vitamin D even in the summer months.
· Vegan diet
It’s difficult to get Vitamin D from purely plant-based sources
· Poor nutrition
· Over 50
· BAME groups
For example, people of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, are more at risk because their bodies are not able to make as much vitamin D.
· Pregnant and breastfeeding women.
How do I find out if I have low levels of Vitamin D?
If you suspect that your symptoms may be related to a deficiency, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy test, or order one online: https://betteryou.com/vitamin-d-testing-service
It’s always best to know your levels to start with, and then adjust accordingly. It can take more than six months to get back to optimum levels.
Is a multivitamin enough?
The recommended daily amount is 400 IUs (International Units) a day. Most multivitamins have 400 IU of vitamin D (check the packet). But these are the minimum guidelines to prevent rickets! This isn’t necessarily what’s required for optimum health, or if your levels are very low.
What if I get too much?
It is not possible to overdose on vitamin D from sunlight. However, the upper limit from other sources is 4000 IUs a day, which is pretty hard to reach if you are taking a good quality (reputable) supplement, alongside a diet rich in vitamin D. Always get tested if you are unsure.
Hold on, what about Inuit people, they do ok without sunshine?
Having both dark skin and living in the artic regions certainly puts Inuit people at a disadvantage. They avoid a deficiency by eating large amounts of oily fish, the primary food source of Vitamin D. However, the younger generation who do not follow their ancestral diet, are showing more cases of rickets.
So can I get enough Vitamin D from my diet?
It’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, although it’s still the best source of vitamin D after sunshine.
Amounts are approximate based on 3oz servings:
Cod liver oil (1 tablespoon) 1300 IUs
Farmed Salmon fillet 250-370 IUs
Wild Salmon 100 IUs
Mackerel 360 IUs
Atlantic Herring 1600 IUs
Pickled Herring 680 IUs
Halibut 200 IUs
Swordfish 560 IUs
Trout 650 IUs
Sardines (5 fish) 330 IUs
1 free range egg yolk 40 IUs
Vitamin D is only found in mushrooms. They contain D2 and not D3, which is much less powerful. The following is based on 50g:
Dried Shiitake 77I IUs
UV exposed Portobello 560 IUs
UV exposed white mushrooms 520 IUs
Many foods have been fortified with vitamin D due to low levels in the population. Check individual food labels for correct amounts. The following are general amounts based on 1 cup servings:
Milk 130 IUs
Soy milk 100 IUs
Orange juice 140 IUs
Cereal 100-300 IUs
What other benefits does it have?
If you want to live to 100 and beyond, then vitamin D is what you need. Longevity experts identify the vitamin as integral to good health and a long life, as well as explaining why so many age-related diseases are associated with a vitamin D deficiency.