By now, most of us know that Vitamin D is something we need, but what exactly is it? And do we have enough?
Well, the honest answer is: no.
Studies in Ireland have revealed that low vitamin D status and vitamin D deficiency are widespread in the population of Ireland; therefore it is important to ensure we’re getting enough.
Due to Ireland’s northerly latitude, very little UVB light reaches the earth’s surface, resulting in reduced production of vitamin D, especially in winter.
This fact, in conjunction with low dietary intakes is compromising the vitamin D status of all population groups living in Ireland.
Allow me to introduce you to the sunshine vitamin.
Although known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is in fact actually a hormone, and is the by-product of a reaction that occurs when UV light hits the skin. Since we cannot often get enough of this vitamin from our food, our bodies are able to make it from the sun instead.
Our bodies absorb sunlight using cholesterol, which helps convert sunlight into a form of vitamin D that our body can use.
Vitamin D regulates hundreds of different pathways in our bodies and influences many things; let me introduce you to a few:
No. 1 – Improves Mood
One of the reasons for the “winter blues” or SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a decreased amount of sunshine during the colder months. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to these changes in mood or depressive periods during the winter months, so ensuring our levels of vitamin D are topped up is essential. See my blog here on 4 Ways to Help Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder.
No. 2 – Supports Immune System
Vitamin D is essential for the normal and healthy functioning of the immune system.
When adequate levels of vitamin D are not maintained, the immune cells are unable to function optimally. As a result, people with low levels of vitamin D can be at a higher risk of getting sick and/or developing a host of inflammatory conditions.
Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with autoimmune conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, and autoimmune thyroid problems.
It should come as no surprise to hear that optimal levels are linked with improved symptoms.
No. 3 – Improves Bone Health
Vitamin D is an integral part of bone health.
Vitamin D is vital for bone health due to its role in calcium regulation, preventing the breakdown of bones and increasing the strength of the skeletal system.
A major vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself as rickets in children and osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults, though more common signs of deficiency include osteopenia and osteoporosis (fragile bones).
No. 4 – Supports Cardiovascular Health
Low D levels and decreased exposure to sunlight are connected to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and increased occurrences of heart attacks and strokes. Incidentally, when levels are increased, cardiovascular health goes up.
No. 5 – Supports Brain Health
Vitamin D is indispensable when it comes to a healthy brain.
Low levels of D have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s and decreased memory.
6. Improved Muscle Strength
Supplementing this important vitamin has been shown to boost muscle strength and physical performance.
Vitamin D has also been linked to improved fertility, sleep and reduced inflammation – happy days!
There is no exact recommended amount for vitamin D yet as everyone requires different levels depending on their own bodies, skin tone, geographic location, exposure to the sun in the year etc.
If you think you’re at risk, ask your doctor to run a test to find out your levels.
Before taking any supplements you do want to know your levels – you can, as with everything, take too much. Equally if you’re severely deficient, 400iu isn’t going to cut it. (For anyone who is pregnant or has a child under 1 year, your Doctor can advise what’s right for you.)
Here’s an interesting article by Ben Brown, Technical Director at Viridian Nutrition which I found an interesting read.
So now we’ve discovered how important vitamin D is; how can we improve our levels?
Many people link Vitamin D deficiency to reduced outdoor activity and increased use of high-SPF sunscreen, and there’s a lot to agree with there.
Many of us are working in offices 9-5, maybe heading to the gym or workout class afterwards. Dinner has to be made, chores have to be done.
So what’s a health conscious soul to do? Fear not, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s your new vitamin D-boosting lifestyle plan:
No. 1 – Move Your Indoor Routines Outside
Spending some time out in the sun is a great way to boost your D levels.
As we know, Vitamin D3 is produced when bare skin is exposed to UV rays, therefore we must factor in sunscreen use, skin tone and our geographic location, as this can all affect our vitamin D level.
Anywhere from 10-20 minutes without sunscreen two to three times a week is recommended to help maintain adequate levels.
And of course, one way to ensure that you’re getting enough sunlight is to make an effort to move your indoor routines outdoors in the warmer months.
– Swap out that treadmill run for a jog around your neighbourhood or local park
– Go for a walk on your lunch break
– Take weekend yoga in the park classes
– Grab your book and take a pew somewhere outside instead of in bed
– Eat your meals in the garden
– Go swimming in the ocean instead of the pool
– Hiking is a great way to get your sun and exercise in during the summer months. Wicklow mountains anyone?
No. 2 – Use Natural Sunscreen
Of course during the summer months we need to ensure we’re keeping ourselves protected from the sun, but we can be savvy about it.
If you cover up and slather on the sunscreen any and every time you’re out in the sun, you’re not going to give your body the chance to get its vitamin D.
As mentioned before, giving yourself even just the bare minimum of 5 minutes without any suncream will help your boost your levels, with 10-20 mins being optimal.
After that, you can give yourself a fine coating of suncream before heading out to enjoy the day.
Look for suncreams that are made without parabens, phthalates, artificial perfumes, petrochemicals and colourants which have been associated with hormone disruption and even liver and kidney damage. My personal favourites include Green People and Jason.
Have a look at my blog Foods to Naturally increase your Skins UV resistance here for more tips on staying protecting in the sun.
No. 3 – Eat Vitamin D Rich Food
When the weather is being uncooperative, your schedule is busy making it difficult to get outside, or during the winter season; consider adding more Vitamin D-rich foods to your diet.
Think eggs, fatty fish, including sardines, mackerel and salmon, mushrooms (portobello, maitake, morel, button, and shiitake mushrooms are all high in vitamin D), and fortified foods like tofu and plant based milks.
Do be aware however, that although we rely on our diets to provide us with vitamin D in the winter months, in reality, this can be difficult to achieve, therefore supplementation may still be needed. Which brings us on to our last point…
No. 4 – Vitamin D Supplementation
Since it’s difficult to get vitamin D exclusively through food, and most of us don’t spend enough time outside—supplementation is sometimes necessary.
Our best sellers include Nourish Liquid Vitamin D 1000IU 30ml, Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3 60 Soft Gels and Better You Dlux Vitamin D 3000 15ml
I advise you to retest every few months to ensure your levels are improving and don’t exceed the safe level. As with everything in the body, vitamin D levels should not be too high or too low, but just right.
I would also advise understanding vitamin synergy.
When trying to boost your vitamin D levels up to where they should be, it’s advisable to include the other fat-soluble vitamins: A, E, and K2. These vitamins are also important and help balance out the vitamin D, making it more bioavailable and help to prevent levels from getting too high.
You can supplement with these, but personally I would suggest focusing on a well-balanced diet which includes these fat-soluble vitamins, and an abundance of all other vitamins and minerals to support your overall health.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication