Many people only know the basics about vitamin D and that it comes from exposure to the sun. But vitamin D, and getting enough of it, is crucial for healthy bones, good heart health, a healthy immune system, reducing inflammation and the prevention of certain diseases.
1. Vitamin D is stored in your body
Vitamin D, which is also called calciferol, is a fat-soluble (dissolves in fat) vitamin. If you have higher levels of vitamin D than your body needs, then it can be stored for long time periods in fatty tissue and the liver. This means that you don’t need vitamin D every day and that your body can sometimes go without it for months at a time by completely relying on your fat stores.
Did you know? Other vitamins that can be stored for long time periods include vitamins A, E and K.
2. Vitamin D is good for your bones
Vitamin D’s most crucial function in the body is allowing the effective absorption of calcium and phosphorous and is also needed for normal growth and remodeling of bone.
What the experts say: Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a significant part in maintaining healthy bones and joints and that low blood levels of vitamin D may cause arthritis and osteoarthritis in the hip and knee.
3. Vitamin D helps you get better
Vitamin D plays a vital part in the support of a healthy immune system. Vitamin D has been linked in playing a vital role in priming and activating human ‘T-cells’ which are responsible for a variety of immune functions.
What the experts say: Studies have shown that vitamin D is connected to reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even something as basic as the common flu.
4. Vitamin D helps to fight depression
Vitamin D has been linked to the amount of serotonin (mood and happiness hormone) your brain releases. A lack of vitamin D can be linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Therefore, people with a lower vitamin D content may be more prone to depression.
What the experts say: Studies have shown that more exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels, whereas little or no sunlight can cause serotonin levels to drop.
5. Urban dwellers may need more Vitamin D
Whether you’re living in a city where there are very few chances of coming into contact with the sun, or if you always use sunscreen when you go outdoors, not having enough sun exposure can cause a deficiency in vitamin D.
What you can do: If you’re living in an urban area, take time in your schedule to spend outside. A simple daily walk in your local park can help you get your daily dose of vitamin D.
6. Where you can find Vitamin D
Vitamin D can be found in a small group of foods such as fish and eggs and is also produced naturally inside your body when your skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It can also be taken as a dietary supplement.
What foods to eat: Foods high in vitamin D include salmon, sardines, cod oil (can be taken in tablet form), egg yolk, milk and yoghurt.
7. Dark-skinned individuals are prone to a deficiency of Vitamin D
Melanin (the pigment that makes skin darker) is a natural sunscreen. Therefore dark-skinned people may need almost ten times the amount of sun exposure to produce the amount of vitamin D a person with a lighter complexion would need.
What you can do: If you have darker skin and suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency you should consult your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
8. Vitamin D needs to be activated
Vitamin D has to undergo a complex biological process before your body is able to use it. This process happens in your kidneys and liver. These organs activate vitamin D and prepare it to be used for its various functions in the body.
What the experts say: Studies indicate that as we grow older, many people’s kidneys and liver lose the ability to convert vitamin D into its active form which can then increase deficiency risk.
9. Get tested for vitamin D deficiency
There’s only one way to know for certain if you are deficient in vitamin D and that’s by taking a blood test. If you think you might be deficient, visit your local GP to have your levels of vitamin D tested.
What the experts say: Signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include extreme and constant feelings of tiredness, generally always feeling unwell and having many aches and pains, very bad bone and muscle pain and stress fractures (small cracks in the bone caused by overuse) in your legs, pelvis and hips.
10. Older people need more vitamin D
Individuals who are 50 years or older should be tested for vitamin D deficiency. The older your body gets, the more difficult it will be to create vitamin D. Older people also tend to be indoors more often which can contribute to lower levels of vitamin D.
What you can do: If you’re 50 and over, it’s best advised to regularly get tested for vitamin D deficiency, and if needed, take a vitamin D supplement.