It Isn’t All Sun And Sea When It Comes To Vitamin D

June 24, 2019 3:42 pm

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We all do what we can to ensure optimum health. More of us are now making an effort to get five fruit and veg a day. We know to stock up on oranges for vitamin C and spinach to increase our iron. Some of us even supplement things like folic acid or vitamins we know we need but can’t squeeze into our diets. While obesity figures are rising, then, it’s fair to say that awareness of healthy eating is on the up, too. Despite that, though, one vitamin is falling under the radar, and it could well be wreaking havoc on our health.

Believe it or not, the vitamin at the centre of this controversy is vitamin D. While we’ve all been worried about the A, C, and even B vitamins for a while, few of us give much thought to the D. For the most part, that’s because we’ve been led to believe that as little as ten minutes of sunlight a day should be enough to satisfy our needs here. Sadly, worrying statistics are coming to the fore which suggest this might not be the case after all.

The reality is that around 1 in 5 people across the UK are currently getting less than their recommended amount of vitamin D. It would be natural, of course, to assume that this lack comes down to little more than increasingly office-based jobs and less time outside. And, there’s no denying that this is definitely one contributing factor, with those who work or exercise outside on a regular basis at a much lower risk of problems. But, evidence now suggests that even spending time outside might not be quite enough to see us getting the vitamin D that we need. That’s because other factors also need to be taken into account, such as the strength of sunlight we’re exposed to, and even the colour of our skin.

What’s more, there’s evidence to suggest that the solution to this problem isn’t as simple as spending more time outside. That’s because scientists who have studied this issue have some concerns about the increased risks of conditions such as skin cancer if we spend as much time in the sun as we would need for vitamin D. This is especially a worry given that the use of sunscreen can inhibit vitamin D intake. That’s why, as of 2016, Public Health England began recommending that everyone over the age of one takes some form of vitamin D supplementation, or at least sought foods fortified with the vitamin.

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You would think that a recommendation like this would get a fair amount of notice, but many of us remain unaware that vitamin D intake should be a pressing concern. That remains the case even though last year saw the UK enjoying 612 hours of sun and still suffering on the vitamin D front.

If you’re reading this assuming that vitamin D intake isn’t a worry for you, then, keep on reading to find out why you might be wrong.

The role vitamin D plays in our body

In many ways, the fact that vitamin D has escaped our attention for so long is surprising. That’s especially the case when you consider that, unlike other vitamins, it functions as a hormone in our bodies, with every cell having a vitamin D receptor. With that in mind, it’s important to note that a lack of vitamin D can cause serious health concerns within various systems throughout the body. While research into this area is still limited, studies conducted using ChIP-Seq methods have previously found links to everything from diabetes to crohn’s disease. Just last year, scientists also discovered a link between climate change-related vitamin D deficiency and increasing cases of rickets in children. Even in less pronounced cases of deficiency, not getting enough vitamin D can lead to issues including –

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pains
  • Regular infections or illnesses
  • Impaired healing
  • Hair loss

How much vitamin D should we actually be getting?

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As mentioned at the start of this post, there is a fair amount of confusion about the amount of vitamin D we should actually be getting. Claims that ten minutes outside would be enough have very much muddied the water about correct vitamin D intake. The reality is, though, that this issue is nowhere near as cut and dry as we’ve always been led to believe.

In fact, natural vitamin D intake is so dependent on various factors that supplementation, not sunshine, seems like the only sure way to get what we need. Hence why the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition now recommends supplements containing ten micrograms per day. This may be contrary to much of the advice already out there, but it’s advice well worth heeding.

The main problem is, of course, that natural sun intake contains too many variables. For one, cloud cover and latitude of a country can both impact what length of sun exposure will be enough. For another, further factors impact our ability to absorb natural vitamin D, including –

  • Having dark skin
  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Country of origin

Add all this together, and it’s impossible to guarantee that blanket advice will be enough to see you get the vitamin D you need. Yet, that won’t be something that you need to worry about if you’re taking supplements regularly.

Is there no way to get enough vitamin D naturally?

None of this is to say, of course, that it isn’t possible to get the vitamin D that you need naturally. Many foods such as fish and dairy are even now fortified with additional vitamin D, though it is worth noting that it’s unlikely to achieve the recommended amount through diet alone. Equally, those who spend most of their days outside might not need to worry. But, as climate change and office-based jobs take their toll, perhaps it’s past time that we started thinking about more than just sun, fun, and sea when it comes to how we get our vitamin D.

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