Vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – is a hormone produced from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
Being a fat-soluble vitamin, it can be stored by your body over time. There are two main forms available from food:
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol): from some animal foods e.g. oily fish, liver, egg yolks
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol): from a selection of mushrooms
VitaminD3 is the more bioavailable version and the one you should concentrate on.
What will it do for my health?
Research studies are uncovering new benefits of Vitamin D all the time. Some of the main benefits of optimum levels (around 1,000IU a day) are:
Bone strength – strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis and the risk of falls for the elderly
Physical strength – strengthens the upper and lower limbs
Cancer prevention – some studies have highlighted a reduction in the risk of various types of cancer. One study indicated that 1,100IU per day with calcium reduced cancer risk by 60%.
Depression – mild reductions in symptoms have been reported in some studies
Reduced risk of disease – the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and autoimmune diseases are all reduced with high levels of Vitamin D
Living longer – can help reduce likellihood of many diseases and overall mortality rates
How can I get enough Vitamin D?
From the sun
The larger the area of skin exposed, the more Vitamin D can be absorbed. Factors that will reduce absorption include use of sunscreen and being behind windows/glass, etc.
General advice for optimising absorption rates is to apply sunscreen before your skin would start to burn. Of course, this advice depends on the intensity of the sun and your own sensitivity to the sun.
If you live in a climate where sunlight is low over several months, i.e. winter in the UK or northern hemisphere, getting vitamin D from supplements is necessary. The darker your skin colour, the less Vitamin D is absorbed from the sun.
From the diet
It is very difficult to obtain significant amounts of Vitamin D from food, which has lead to deficiencies being commonplace in countries that have little sun at certain times of the year. Main sources from food are oily fish, egg yolks and liver, however, you would need to be eating large portions of those to get anywhere near an optimum daily supply. It’s worth bearing in mind that some cereals and dairy items are fortified with Vitamin D.
Having your blood levels measured is an accurate way of knowing if you are Vitamin D deficient. Your GP can help you with this test: calcidiol levels under 12ng/ml are too low; above 20ng/ml is reasonable; 30ng/ml or more is now thought to be the optimum level.
The following video from Cancer Research UK offers some general advice on staying safe in the sun:
The best option is in the form of Vitamin D3 – aim for at least 5,000 IU, preferably around 10,000IU.
Cod Liver Oil contains a large amount of Vitamin D but is considered to be a less effective option, due to the large amount of Vitamin A it also contains. Vitamin A is another fat-soluble vitamin that is fairly commonplace in the average diet and larger doses may interfere with effective Vitamin D absorption.
My recommended supplier for Vitamin D3 is Nutrigold. You can visit their web site here and place an order.
Nutrigold stock a high quality range of Vitamin D supplements, which can be found under the Antioxidants section. Nutrigold’s advisors will also be happy to discuss any questions you may have about taking a Vitamin D supplement – you can call them on 0845 603 5675 (local rate number).
Please consult your doctor if you are on prescribed medication that may interfere with Vitamin D, or are being treated for an existing medical condition and unsure about the effect supplementation may have.