01 Oct Vitamin D: Everything You Need To Know
Vitamin D deficiency is such a widespread problem that it’s recommended we all take a supplement during autumn and winter months. At our clinic, we regularly test our client’s nutrient levels and we commonly find our new clients to be deficient. So why is vitamin D important? How can you tell if your levels are low? And what’s the best way to get enough? Here’s everything you need to know about the sunshine vitamin.
WHY IS VITAMIN D IMPORTANT?
Vitamin D is vital for good health. It regulates calcium and therefore is essential for strong and healthy bones and teeth. It’s necessary for healthy functioning immune and cardiovascular systems and for healthy cognitive function to name just a few.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET VITAMIN D?
The majority of our Vitamin D is produced by our skin when it’s exposed to sunlight so it’s recommended that we get outside daily exposing our skin to the sun in order to promote production. It is also worth eating foods that provide the vitamin too, despite food contributing less to our intake. For many of us though, sunshine and vitamin D rich foods may still not be enough to maintain optimal blood levels. Due to our increasingly indoor lifestyles (particularly so right now) and unpredictable UK weather, this puts many of us at risk from deficiency. Therefore, it’s wise to take a supplement.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON’T GET ENOUGH?
For a long time we have been aware of the impact of severe Vitamin D deficiency which manifests as rickets. A disease of the 19th Century, rickets was virtually eradicated half a century ago, however, there has been a re-emergence of the disease in recent years. Aside from rickets, evidence links deficiency to a wide range of different health concerns. These include autoimmune diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, infectious diseases, musculoskeletal decline, and more.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LOW LEVELS?
There are many common health symptoms associated with deficiency. These include:
- Suffering with frequent coughs and colds
- Tiredness / fatigue
- Low mood / depression
- Lower back pain, muscle weakness and / or throbbing bone pain.
However it’s common to have suboptimal levels of the vitamin and experience no symptoms at all. Low levels are such a big problem that the government now recommends that everyone should take a supplement during autumn and winter, with at risk groups supplementing all year round.
VITAMIN D AND COVID 19
During the pandemic, you may have heard about links between vitamin D deficiency and Covid-19 complications in the news. According to research, patients who had sufficient levels of the vitamin were 51% less likely to experience complications that resulted in death from coronavirus.
Scientists at Boston University’s school of medicine found that vitamin D was linked to higher levels of immune cells in the blood and lower inflammatory markers. This resulted in fewer ‘cytokine storms’, a potentially deadly overreaction of the immune system sparked by coronavirus.
Blood samples were taken from 235 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 and it was found that in patients older than 40, those who had sufficient levels of vitamin D were more than 51% less likely to die than patients who were deficiency.
CAN I TEST MY LEVEL TESTED?
Yes, it is possible to test your Vitamin D levels. You can purchase an affordable at home test kit online for just over £30. We recommend this quick and easy test from City Assays. It’s a simple finger prick blood test – you post your sample to their lab and receive your results via email. Testing can help you identify whether you need to be dosing to correct a deficiency, or to maintain an optimal level.
WHAT SHOULD YOUR VITAMIN D LEVEL BE?
As with many health markers, when it comes to vitamin D there is a difference between levels widely deemed ‘adequate’ and levels that are understood to be ‘optimal’. We aim for optimal. You can refer to this chart from the Nutritional Medicine Journal which deems ‘sufficient’ levels to be 75-150 mol/l (or 21-29 ng/ml).
A review of evidence into vitamin D status in relation to a variety of health outcomes concluded that: for all endpoints, the most advantageous serum concentrations of vitamin D begin at 75 nmol/L (30 ng/mL), and the best are between 90 and 100 nmol/L (36-40 ng/mL). These are the levels you should be looking to achieve.
HOW DOES SKIN COLOUR AFFECT VITAMIN D LEVELS?
The darker a person’s skin type, the lower their ability to synthesise Vitamin D. People whose skin type have adapted to prevent excess synthesis in their native, sunny environment are particularly prone to deficiency when living in a sun-deprived country such as the UK. Our client list comprises a diverse ethnic background. Our South Asian clients with darker skin are commonly deficient. Muslim women who cover themselves for religious reasons are also often found to be Vitamin D deficient. That said, we also see plenty of Caucasian clients with low, or borderline levels of the vitamin. Most of us spend a significant proportion of our time indoors meaning that regardless of skin type, anyone can be affected.
DOES WEARING SPF AFFECT OUR SKIN’S PRODUCTION?
While it’s advised we wear SPF to protect ourselves from skin cancer and ageing, by blocking out the sun’s rays we are also blocking our skin’s ability to produce the sunshine vitamin. Exposure to UVB rays provides more than 90% of our vitamin D production but research has shown that wearing a sunscreen with an SPF as low as eight reduces the skin’s production by an incredible 95%. This is not to say you should stop wearing SPF.
WHICH FOODS ARE HIGH IN VITAMIN D?
Unfortunately, there are few good quality, natural food sources. Oily fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel and eggs, provide the vitamin. Otherwise, most other food sources come in the form of highly processed fortified foods such as margarines and breakfast cereals, which we don’t recommend regularly including in the diet. As most of us don’t get enough sun to produce optimal vitamin D, and that few good food sources are available, you’ll likely need to take a supplement to achieve and maintain optimal levels.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D SHOULD I SUPPLEMENT?
Once you know your level you can identify the optimal dosing strategy. This article from the Vitamin D Council gives a detailed breakdown of how to dose based on your results. (Bear in mind that this uses ng/ml but nmol/ml is the more common unit of measurement used in the UK so you may need to use a conversion calculator.)
Alternatively, you can use the simpler NICE guidelines for correcting deficiency. Several loading dose regimens are possible, including:
If you have low levels, you’ll need a loading dose to correct this. To correct deficiency, NICE advise aiming to consume around 300,000 IU over a period of six weeks, which can be supplemented as:
- 50,000 IU once a week for 6 weeks (300,000 IU in total)
- 20,000 IU twice a week for 7 weeks (280,000 IU in total)
- or 4000 IU daily for 10 weeks (280,000 IU in total)
We recommend Love Life Supplements Vitamin D3 with K2 Vital. Based on the above we advise two capsules per day (6000IU total) for eight weeks then we retest.
Once you’ve completed one of the above dosing regimes, it’s worth retesting to ensure you’ve achieved an optimal level and then continuing on a lower maintenance dose. 400 IU is the minimum recommended during autumn and winter months, however many of us could benefit from a higher maintenance dose. Many health care providers have increased their recommendations for supplementation to at least 1000 IU.
WHICH IS THE BEST SUPPLEMENT?
We recommend Love Life Supplements Vitamin D3 with K2 Vital for three reasons. Firstly, it’s important to supplement D alongside K2 as K2 is required for optimal absorption. Secondly, this supplement combines D3 and K2 with MCT oil as healthy fats also support the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like D and K. Finally, this high quality brand goes to extensive lengths to avoid the binders and fillers often found in lower quality supplements. We know from clinical experience that this supplement effectively increases blood levels this vital vitamin.
SUMMARY: HOW TO OPTIMISE YOUR LEVEL
- Ideally, get a test and establish your current vitamin D level. You can ask your GP or arrange an at home test from City Assays.
- Get daily sun exposure. Exposure to daylight is important for many aspects of health. If applying sunscreen to the face, expose your arms (but of course – at a level that doesn’t cause redness or burning).
- Eat organic eggs and wild oily fish. They provide vitamin D as well as protein and a number of other essential nutrients.
- Take a quality supplement at a dose to suit your needs.
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