Vitamin D is certainly a nutrient that everyone is talking about, but before the year 2000, very few doctors ever considered the possibility that you might be vitamin D deficient. But as the technology to measure vitamin D became inexpensive and widely available, more and more studies were done, and it became increasingly clear that vitamin D deficiency was rampant.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in very few foods or when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation.
What we get from food and what we get from the sun is incomplete and needs to go through these processes known as hydroxylation, to become metabolically active.
The primary effect of vitamin D is in relation to calcium. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium from the gut, and to also maintain serum concentrations of calcium. It is also needed for normal bone growth and remodelling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Low levels of vitamin D can be associated with brittle thin bones, or in developing children, bones that are soft and can become bowed – rickets, but also question if your children are breaking a lot of bones or loosing second teeth.
It plays a role in modulating cell growth, regulating immunity and managing inflammation. There have been links with vitamin D and colon, prostate, and breast cancer risk reduction.
The problem is, it is a nutrient that has become commonly deficient, surprisingly here is Spain too. Many of my patients when tested are low or deficient.
Here are the best food sources:
Full fat dairy products
For decades, we have been sold the idea that the low-fat diet was the key to immunity from heart disease. The low-fat model meant that we were encouraged to swap full fat dairy products for skimmed and fat free versions. These are some of the richest dietary sources of vitamin D. The fat-soluble nutrient is found in the fatty portion of the product. Remove the fat, loose the vitamin D.
Eggs are another rich vitamin D source. We were told to avoid the yolks of eggs, led to believe that it was a bathing pool of cholesterol, However, we have moved past that but some people still habitually avoid the yolks. The yolks are where the highest concentration of fat is, and where all the vitamin D is found.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herrings and sardines are very rich sources of Vitamin D. One wild salmon fillet can deliver up to 2/3 of our daily requirements. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, so it will be found in these fattier cuts of fish.
There are varieties of mushroom, most commonly chestnut, that have been exposed to artificial ultraviolet radiation. Like humans, mushrooms can synthesise vitamin D upon exposure to UV. By bathing the growing fungus in this radiation, they produce significant levels of vitamin D naturally. Ideal for vegans!!
Signs you may have a vitamin D deficiency include:
- Aged over 50
- Having darker skin
- Achy bones and fatigue (often misdiagnosed for fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
- Feeling blue, Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation, rises with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure.
- Head sweating (this is a classic sign)
- Gut problems – Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means if you have a gastrointestinal condition that affects your ability to absorb fat, you may have lower absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D as well.
Fortunately, if you get enough sun exposure in the summer, your body will make and store almost enough vitamin D to get you through the winter, however, being obese will affect absorption.
I recommend a daily supplement of 1,000 IU during winter months. Use the D3 form (cholecalciferol) and take it with a fat-containing meal to ensure absorption. Also, get tested by your GP!
Enjoy winter sunshine whenever you can!
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