Why are vitamin D deficiencies so common?
The NHS recommends that adults need around 10mcg of vitamin D a day1 but it’s estimated that 1 billion people worldwide aren’t getting this essential intake. Closer to home here in the UK, the picture doesn’t get much brighter. Approximately 20% of the population aren’t getting a sufficient intake of vitamin D which could be due to a variety of factors.2
The most obvious obstacle to getting our recommended daily intake (RDA) is arguably the weather. Britain is notorious for its damp summers and dark winters and, considering that sunlight is your body’s primary way of synthesising vitamin D, this can be problematic. What doesn’t help this gloomy forecast is that office jobs are now extremely prevalent which means that in winter, most of us will go to work and return home in the dark.
Combine these issues with the rising popularity of a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle (vitamin D is more widely available in animal-derived foods) and you have a recipe for deficiency! That’s why today I’m here to create awareness and to outline 5 fantastic reasons why you need more vitamin D and how you can obtain it.
1 – Vitamin D enhances your immune function
Tickly throat and blocked nose? You’re definitely not alone. This time of year can be very challenging for your immune system as all those winter bugs are starting to emerge, bringing with them runny noses, chesty coughs and stubborn headaches. That’s why looking after you immune system should be a priority and this is where vitamin D might be able to help.
There are vitamin D receptors all over your body, from your intestines to your brain to your immune cells. When it comes to these cells (over 70% of which are located in your gut!), vitamin D can play a role in activating your T cells.3 T cells are a type of immune cell that hunts down and eliminates germs and other pathogens so they’re pretty important when it comes to fending off viruses and infections.
A study published in the British Medical Journal also seems to back this up, finding that vitamin D supplementation could be useful in preventing respiratory tract infections such as colds, flus and bronchitis.4 So, if you’re looking to enhance your immune function this winter, it may be a good idea to start looking at how you can increase your vitamin D intake!
2 –Vitamin D deficiency may contribute to IBD
When it comes to IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), sufferers often exhibit low levels of vitamin – one study found that out of 965 patients, 20% had low vitamin D levels!5 This has led to speculation that the two could be connected – after all, there are vitamin D receptors in your gastrointestinal tract too.
It seems that Vitamin D may actually play a role in moderating your immune system’s inflammatory reactions which would definitely be good news for IBD and other inflammatory digestive problems. According to studies, vitamin D supplementation can help to block TNF, a cell-signalling protein that is involved with inflammation.6
Another study, this time published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that patients who received vitamin D replacement experienced fewer problems overall.7 Although further research is still needed, so far the results do seem to suggest that vitamin D could help to support IBD sufferers!
3 – Vitamin D may help to treat skin conditions
Okay, so I’ve just spoken a little bit about how vitamin D plays a part in regulating your inflammatory responses which could be useful for digestive problems like IBD but they could also be very beneficial for inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema too.
Similar to IBD sufferers, patients with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis often have lower levels of vitamin D. Inflammation is a major trigger for skin conditions, often leading to all sorts of problems. Since vitamin D may play a role in moderating inflammation, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest that this nutrient could help to promote your skin health.
In her blog, ‘Can vitamin D deficiency affect your skin?’ our Skin Advisor Felicity explores the impact of low vitamin D levels on your skin in a little bit more depth. Interestingly, she does also elaborate on the importance of a healthy immune system for your skin – another area where vitamin D could be useful!
4 – Vitamin D could help to ease SAD
The nights are now drawing in and the weather is definitely getting colder which means it’s getting into that time of year that SAD sufferers dread. SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a type of depressive condition that presents symptoms at a very specific time of year, namely during the winter months.
There are a number of causes linked with the condition – some believe it is a relic of our old hibernation instincts whereas others blame a drop in the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin, which can occur as a result of lower levels of sunlight. However, others have theorised that there could be a connection between SAD and vitamin D deficiency which is also common during the winter months.
As I’ve mentioned, there are vitamin D receptors in the brain so it isn’t too far-fetched to speculate the nutrient must have an impact here – in fact, researchers have identified that these receptors exist in the same area of the brain associated with depression!8 It has also been thought that vitamin D may influence how serotonin works which again could influence SAD symptoms.
5 – Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones
Arguably, this is vitamin D’s most famous benefit. It’s well-known that the vitamin is essential for the healthy absorption of calcium, a pivotal mineral when it comes to building strong bones. That’s one of the reasons why vitamin D deficiency is often associated with conditions such as rickets or osteoporosis, which involve bone weakness. As you age, your absorption of certain bone-boosting minerals such as calcium and magnesium can become less efficient and as a consequence your demand for vitamin D may increase!
What is the best way to increase your intake?
You may have noticed that at the beginning of this blog, I cited NHS guidelines that specify that each day we should be getting around 10mcg of vitamin D derived either from our diets or our exposure to sunlight. However, recently Public Health England has recommended that all adults consider a 10mcg vitamin D supplement during the colder, darker winter months.
However, as I’ve mentioned, there are other groups that may also wish to think about supplementing. While there are dietary sources of vitamin D available, these are usually found in animal-derived products such as meat, fish and dairy which can exclude vegan and vegetarians. If you suffer from SAD or are over 65, supplementing might also be a viable option for you too!
The main problem with supplementing, though, is that many high-street supplements contain far, far too much vitamin D. As I discuss in my blog ‘Are you getting too much vitamin D?’ over-supplementing can be just as bad as having a deficiency so, with this in mind, I would stick to a supplement of around 10mcg.