In Australia there is a false sense of security that we are receiving an adequate amount of Vitamin D due to the nature of our climate. Unfortunately, with a society that is changing not only in multiculturalism but also with job and lifestyle structure, Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more prevalent.
Why do we need it?
As Vitamin D is a hormone essential for the building and composition of bones, the body's needs for this nutrient must be adequately met for overall skeletal health. This can be done either through monitored sun exposure, dietary intake or supplementation. Vitamin D is required by the body to improve calcium absorption which in turn strengthens and protects bones. Exposure from sunlight is the best source, in particular the UVB rays the sun emits. We cannot get this through glass (car windows/offices etc). These are absorbed by the skin and are utilised by the liver to be converted into 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) which circulates in the blood. This is further processed by the kidney to produce the active form of vitamin D, calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D).
Without adequate testing, it is hard to determine an individual’s deficiency. There may be little to no obvious signs of the body not meeting the required Vitamin D levels needed for optimum muscle and bone health.
Some early signs which may indicate a Vitamin D deficiency are noticed as lowered immunity, fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, bone pain, bones that fracture easily, frequent falls and early signs of osteoporosis particularly in older individuals. In severe cases, deficiency in adults leads to osteomalacia throughout the skeleton, and rickets where mineralisation of the growth plate is impaired in children leading to deformities. This has been highlighted this past week in the media as a growing concern for Australian children whose mothers are not getting enough Vitamin D during pregnancy.
There have also been studies to indicate Vitamin D deficiencies may also be linked to other serious diseases such as cardio vascular disease (CVD), diabetes, osteoarthritis and even cancer implications.
There are several diseases that may also contribute to a lack of Vitamin D absorption. Individuals with chronic illnesses such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease may not be able to utilise the hormone well enough for it to function in the body. Diseases which affect the gastro intestinal tract (GIT), liver or kidneys, even medications that alter the metabolism of vitamin D, which is responsible for stimulating calcium and phosphorus absorption, may also prevent these organs from performing in their role of synthesising this hormone and nutrient.
Where can we get it?
Aside from the more obvious causes of Vitamin D deficiency such as insufficient skin exposure to sunlight (which is the best source we can utilise), a diet lacking in Vitamin D rich foods may also play a role in this deficiency. Dietary sources and peoples diets in general often do not contain the required daily amounts we need, though there are some Vitamin D rich foods which include eggs, oily fish such as sardines or mackerel, butter, sun dried mushrooms and there are now also Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk available.
By increasing safe skin exposure to the sun most days of the week for as little as ten minutes can fulfil the body’s Vitamin D requirements. However, many individuals who do find themselves at risk of Vitamin D deficiency often have to complement their diet and lifestyle by the way of supplementation after being diagnosed by a doctor as being Vitamin D deficient.
So why not find an excuse to head outdoors for a little each day, enjoy nature, take a breather, reset the mind and get some Vitamin D while you're there!