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Vitamin D

The colder months are now behind us and summer is fast approaching bringing about more hours and options for getting active outside and soaking up all that sunshine. Not only does being out in the fresh air and basking in the rays of the sun feel great but this simple act is more crucial for your health & wellbeing then most people realise.

When we expose our skin to the sun’s rays, a chemical reaction occurs in our body and we create Vitamin D. This vitamin is crucial in helping maintain optimum health, but according to international surveys and studies1-5, the majority of people have a vitamin D deficiency.

Many studies6-16 have also shown that this vitamin can have a number of health benefits, with high levels of vitamin D being associated with:

 A reduced risk and severity of colds and flu

– A reduced risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and depression.

– Improved greater mobility.

– A decreased risk of death in the elderly.

– A reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

– Improved pancreas function.

– Increased survival rates of ICU (intensive care unit) patients.

Although the claim of these health benefits are based purely on observational studies (i.e. the research has shown a correlation between higher levels of Vitamin D and these health benefits, rather than showing that increasing a person’s Vitamin D produces these effects) and warrant further research, things are looking very promising for the potential power of something so simple to increase our physical (and mental) health and wellbeing.

So how much of this vitamin do we need and how do we go about getting it?

At present, the recommended amount of Vitamin D is about 400 IU (international units) per day for the average person, but most experts agree that is probably too low. Some experts suggest 2000 IUs per day with some even going as far to say that we need even more than that.

So how do we know how much to take?

Firstly, why supplement with a vitamin that is so easily made by our own body or found in foods that have a whole host of other health benefits themselves? Personally, I would rather scrap that idea and try to get my vitamin D naturally… Just 10-15 minutes of sunshine per day is enough to create all the vitamin D you need. Alternatively, eating just a single 100gram serving of wild fresh salmon can provide you with around 600 – 1,000 IU. Simple, right?

But is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

The jury is still out on that one with some saying there is no real risk and it’s better to have high levels in your blood than to be deficient, while others say excessive amounts can lead to kidney stones, calcification in blood vessels and other problems. Until there are further studies on the matter it’s all guess work at the moment. However, the benefits in my eyes far out-weigh the risks and I think we should all take certain measures to increase our levels of this important, yet often overlooked, vitamin.

If we make a conscious effort to get outside in the sun and enjoy more of what this world has to offer, not only will your increase blood levels of vitamin D but you can enjoy the knock on effect of being up and active, adding even more health benefits.

So this summer, and all year round for that matter, get outside with family and friends, get active, be social and improve your health & wellbeing more than you could ever imagine.

It definitely beats the alternative of taking pills!

N.B: just to clarify and add a couple of words of caution here:

(i) I am in no way recommending ‘sunbathing’ for hours at a time. The risks and damage caused by excessive exposure to the sun should not be ignored or taken lightly. However, as I said, just 10-15 minutes of sunshine per day is sufficient to allow your body to produce sufficient quantities of vitamin D, so don’t go out and fry yourself to a crisp in the midday sun, just be sensible and try to get outside for a short time every day.

(ii) If you are concerned that you might have a vitamin D deficiency and are considering using a supplement, remember that it is always wise to consult a GP before beginning supplementation with any vitamin.

References

1 Aloia JF. Clinical Review: The 2011 report on dietary reference intake for vitamin D: where do we go from here? J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct;96(10):2987-96. Epub 2011 Jul 27. Review.

2 Melamed ML, Michos ED, Post W, Astor B. 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and the risk of mortality in the general population. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Aug 11;168(15):1629-37.

3 Ng K, Wolpin BM, Meyerhardt JA, Wu K, Chan AT, Hollis BW, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Fuchs CS. Prospective study of predictors of vitamin D status and survival in patients with colorectal cancer. Br J Cancer. 2009 Sep 15;101(6):916-23.

4 Scragg R. Vitamin D and public health: an overview of recent research on common diseases and mortality in adulthood. Public Health Nutr. 2011 Sep;14(9):1515-32. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

5 Semba RD, Garrett E, Johnson BA, Guralnik JM, Fried LP. Vitamin D deficiency among older women with and without disability. Amer J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:1529-1534.

6 Autier P, Gandini S. Vitamin D supplementation and total mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Sep 10;167(16):1730-7.

7 Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dawson-Hughes B, Staehelin HB, Orav JE, Stuck AE, Theiler R, Wong JB, Egli A, Kiel DP, Henschkowski J. Fall prevention with supplemental and active forms of vitamin D: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2009 Oct 1;339:b3692. Review.

8 Bjelakovic G, Gluud LL, Nikolova D, Whitfield K, Wetterslev J, Simonetti RG, Bjelakovic M, Gluud C. Vitamin D supplementation for prevention of mortality in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD007470. Review.

9 Grant WB, Garland CF. A critical review of studies on vitamin D in relation to colorectal cancer.Nutr Cancer. 2004;48(2):115-123.

10 Holick MF. Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Mar;79(3):362-371.

11 Kampman E, Slattery ML, Caan B, Potter JD. Calcium, vitamin D, sunshine exposure, dairy products and colon cancer risk (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 2000:11:459-466.

12 Mitri J, Muraru MD, Pittas AG. Vitamin D and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;65(9):1005-15. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.118. Epub 2011 Jul 6. Review.

13 Mordan-McCombs S, Valrance M, Zinser G, Tenniswood M, Welsh J. Calcium, vitamin D and the vitamin D receptor: impact on prostate and breast cancer in preclinical models. Nutr Rev. 2007 Aug;65(8 Pt 2):S131-3.

14 Muir SW, Montero-Odasso M. Effect of vitamin d supplementation on muscle strength, gait and balance in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 Dec;59(12):2291-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03733.x.

15 Soares MJ, Chan She Ping-Delfos W, Ghanbari MH. Calcium and vitamin D for obesity: a review of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;65(9):994-1004. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.106. Epub 2011 Jul 6. Review.

16 Yin L, Raum E, Haug U, Arndt V, Brenner H. Meta-analysis of longitudinal studies: Serum vitamin D and prostate cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol. 2009 Dec;33(6):435-45.

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