Vitamin D is sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because your body produces it naturally when exposed to direct sunlight. In the UK, Winter Sun is non-existent, and so we tend to rely on the short summer months to get a boost. From October until the end of March, the sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to ensure adequate vitamin D levels even if you’re outdoors all year round.
Most of us get a bit low in vitamin D in the winter months, but some groups are at risk of more severe deficiency. The at-risk groups include:
pregnant and breastfeeding women
children under five (because they need more vitamin D for bone growth)
anyone who doesn’t get much exposure to the sun
people over 65 who are frail and lack a varied diet or opportunity to get outdoors much
people with darker skin tones, which block UV rays more effectively than paler ones.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is more than a vitamin. Essentially, it is a prohormone, a substance that the body converts to a hormone. Vitamin D produced by the skin after exposure to sunlight binds to a protein (called the vitamin D receptor). This receptor is present in nearly every cell in the body and affects many different body processes. It regulates the calcium levels in your blood, contributes to heart health and regulates cell growth.
It’s best known for its role in supporting bone health and strengthening the immune system. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining the mineral balance within the body and has a much broader role to play in our overall health and wellbeing.
Top 3 benefits of Vitamin D
#1 – To fight disease
Research suggests that Vitamin D plays an essential role in reducing your risk of certain conditions.
"There's no perfect study," says Matthew McCoyd, MD, a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) specialist at Loyola University Medical Centre. However, some research suggests several ways that vitamin D can be good for you, whether you have MS now or want to keep it at bay:
Slows down the disease. Researchers checked the symptoms of people in an early stage of MS. They found that after five years, those with more vitamin D in their blood had fewer problems.
Prevents MS. Studies show that children who get a lot of sunlight, which is one way to get vitamin D, are less likely to get the disease when they grow up.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded it could help you reduce the risk of getting flu, and an NHS review of existing data estimates that supplementing food with vitamin D would prevent millions of cold and flu cases, and possibly save lives.
Researchers looked at data from 25 previous studies where vitamin D was compared with a placebo. The studies explored the effect of vitamin D in preventing acute respiratory tract infections. These are infections of the body's airways, such as colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. Their analysis suggests daily, or weekly vitamin D supplementation was useful in preventing respiratory tract infections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, supplementation was particularly beneficial for people who had deficient levels of vitamin D.
An in 2008, findings published in Circulation say it decreases your chances of developing heart disease. A 2015 Scottish study, part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, showed that although having low levels of vitamin D is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the low vitamin D is a result of lifestyle factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, rather than the cause of increased risk.
#2 - Reduces Depression
Vitamin D may play an essential role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one scientific study, people with depression who started taking vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms.
In another study of people with fibromyalgia, researchers found vitamin D deficiency was more common in those who were also experiencing anxiety and depression.
According to the Healthy Food Guide, there’s much debate about whether this lack of vitamin D affects our mood and results in depression. Research does show vitamin D has an important role to play in the brain – receptors for the vitamin have been found in many parts of the brain, including the areas linked to depression – but exactly how it works isn’t fully understood. One theory is a lack of vitamin D results in lower levels of mood-enhancing serotonin, which makes us more prone to depression.
Indeed, studies confirm a connection between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and an increased risk of depression. However, a recent review of the research, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, confirmed it’s unclear whether a deficiency, in fact, causes depression or whether low vitamin D levels are the result of being depressed.
Being such a new area of research, we can’t draw any firm conclusions – but we do know vitamin D is essential for good health.
#3 – Boosts weight loss
Consider adding vitamin D supplements to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight or prevent heart disease. Some evidence suggests that getting enough vitamin D could enhance weight loss and decrease body fat.
In one study, people taking daily calcium and vitamin D supplement were able to lose more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement. The scientists said the extra calcium and vitamin D had an appetite-suppressing effect.
Another study looked at 218 overweight and obese women over a one-year period. All were put on a calorie-restricted diet and exercise routine. Half of the women received a vitamin D supplement, while the other half received a placebo.
At the end of the study, researchers found that women who fulfilled their vitamin D requirements experienced more weight loss, losing an average of 7 pounds (3.2 kg) more than the women who did not have adequate blood levels.
In short, increasing your vitamin D intake may promote weight loss, although more research is needed before reliable conclusions can be reached.
Other Benefits of Vitamin D
It may ward off vision damage
It might stop muscle spasms
It can help ease fibromyalgia pain
It could help you prevent chronic headaches
It can improve your fertility and chances of conceiving
It can keep your cholesterol in check after menopause
Are you deficient?
There are some common risk factors for a vitamin D deficiency which include;
Being in an area with high pollution
Always using sunscreen
Living in big cities where buildings block sunlight
Having dark skin. (The higher the levels of melanin, the less vitamin D the skin can absorb.)
The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency in adults include:
tiredness, aches and pains, and a general sense of not feeling well.
severe bone or muscle pain or weakness
stress fractures, especially in your legs, pelvis, and hips
lack of sleep
often sick, especially with colds or the flu viruses
low mood or depression
impaired wound healing
Recommendation; Take a good quality Vitamin D Supplement
If you are diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend you take daily vitamin D supplements. If you have a severe deficiency, they may instead recommend high-dose vitamin D tablets or liquids. You should also make sure to get vitamin D through sunlight and the foods you eat.
Vitamin D3 1000IU Supplement (60 Capsules)
Helps to support bone health and the immune system; a daily dose of sunshine goodness
Known as the sunshine vitamin, D3 is essential for maintaining the calcium our bodies need for healthy bones and teeth. Our naturally sourced one-a-day supplement is the simple way to ensure your body is full of sunshine goodness, whatever the weather.
Sunshine is the best medicine.