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Nutrient - Vitamin D deficiency on the rise

By Emma Mihill ND NT DipCNM MBANT

A recent news report on the BBC highlighted the story of a young girl with rickets that could have been caused by using a strong sun cream, which effectively ‘blocked’ the sunlight from penetrating her skin to produce vitamin D. Rickets is a well-accepted deficiency disease arising from the lack of vitamin D, and is known to be on the increase. This interesting case further endorses the importance of vitamin D in the body and the need for ‘topping up’, especially during the winter months.

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin”, since the most active form is produced on the skin from sunlight or ingested dietarily. Acting more like a hormone than a vitamin in the body, it becomes increasingly important to supplement if you live in a country lacking sunshine, if you are a child, are vegetarian, suffer with any autoimmune conditions or are pregnant or elderly. Vitamin D refers to several different forms of the vitamin. However, the two most important in humans are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is synthesised by plants and D3 is synthesised by our skin when we are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Obviously, both forms are also available in the daily diet, but only in a limited number of foods.

However, according to some latest research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vitamin D3 is more effective at raising blood levels than vitamin D2 and, therefore, should be the preferred choice for supplementation where there is an existing or potential risk of deficiency.

What are the main facts about vitamin D?

  • Synthesised by the action of sunlight on the skin
  • Unstable to light, therefore lost in any processing
  • Facilitates calcium absorption and regulation
  • Increases bone strength
  • Regulates our body’s immune responses
  • Signs of deficiency include rickets, softening of bones and teeth, osteoporosis, insomnia, depression

Rickets is the most common deficiency sign of vitamin D, which results in skeletal deformities. Living in the UK, we all have limited access to the sun’s rays, which can even be erratic during our unpredictable summers. Therefore, it becomes important to add a vitamin D supplement to your usual winter protocol and even consider reducing the dosage throughout summer, rather than giving it up entirely unless you can guarantee 10-15 minutes exposure to the sunshine every day. It can be effective in many health conditions, including psoriasis where it is the D3 form that appears to control skin cell growth. 

Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health and any deficiency can lead to a loss of bone mineral content where you can experience bone pain, muscle weakness and osteomalacia (soft bones).

Vitamin D is found to be frequently deficient in UK residents not only because of our lack of sunshine but also because of our position on the globe, which reduces our exposure to natural light. Therefore, the consumption of vitamin D in foods such as oily fish, eggs, butter, milk and sprouted seeds alongside a good Vitamin D supplement, in the D3 form, is advisable.

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