17 Feb Vitamin D
The recent news (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38988982)highlights findings from a study published in the British Medical Journal that suggests that many people may benefit from supplementing with Vitamin D to help in the prevention of illnesses including flu and pneumonia1. Public Health England already recommends the use of supplementing with Vitamin D in autumn and winter to help protect healthy bones and muscles2, however this study and many others highlight that this Vitamin may have the potential to provide many more health benefits.
So what does Vitamin D do and how would you know if you are at risk of deficiency or whether you should consider supplementing?
What does Vitamin D do?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is often referred to as a ‘miracle vitamin’ or ‘super nutrient’ as more and more studies are finding that it may offer so much more than just helping to support healthy bones and muscles. Vitamin D contributes to many functions such as immune system function, utilisation of calcium and muscle function. However increasing evidence from research is highlighting that many serious diseases and conditions are associated with Vitamin D deficiency. Whilst this recent study highlights respiratory tract infections, colds, flu and asthma, other studies have identified associations with Type 2 Diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, autoimmune conditions, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis and generalised fatigue3.
Those at higher risk of deficiency include people with darker skin pigmentation such as African and and Asian populations, low sun exposure, higher body fat and obesity, people taking certain medications and the elderly4.
Identifying a deficiency requires a blood test which can be arranged by a GP. Also, simple low cost Vitamin D tests are available with a finger spot test available through the Pathology Department of sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust (http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/testpack.html). Alternatively accredited health care practitioners such as BANT registered Nutritional Therapists can arrange for tests to be done and help interpret the results.
What are the sources of Vitamin D?
Certain foods provide a source of Vitamin D which include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout), egg yolk, mushrooms and some supplemented cereals. Vitamin D is also generated by sun exposure and it is thought that two to three 20 minute sunlight exposures a week in summer could be sufficient to provide healthy vitamin D levels5.
Since Vitamin D isn’t naturally present in many foods many experts agree that supplementing can be a safe and effective way to achieve adequate levels required to maintain health and generally levels contained in multi vitamin supplements may assist1. However, for those at risk of deficiency or who have symptoms or conditions that are associated with deficiency it may be worth considering testing with an accredited practitioner so that the correct dosage can be gained through supplementation and an appropriate programme put in place to monitor improvements in symptoms and levels.
References: 1. Martineau A et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ. 2017;356. ; 2. Public Health England. PHE publishes new advice on vitamin D – Press releases – GOV.UK. 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/phe-publishes-new-advice-on-vitamin-d; 3. Holick MF and CTC. Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(4). ; 4. Whiting MS and Calvo. Overview of the Proceedings From Experimental Biology 2005 Symposium: Optimizing Vitamin D Intake for Populations With Special Needs: Barriers to Effective Food Fortification and Supplementation – Journals – NCBI. J Nutr 2006;136(4); 5. Pearce SHS, Cheetham TD. Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency. BMJ. 2010;340(jan11_1):b5664.