The Importance of Vitamin D
Posted: Nov 23, 2020
Vitamin D is one of the many vitamins that we heed for health and well-being and it is also considered by some to be the most important. Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium from the gut and to help optimize bone health. Clinically, a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to softening of the bones (osteomalacia) in adults and to rickets in children. In older adults, lower levels of Vitamin D increase the risk for osteoporosis, falls and fractures. It also plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, healthy skin and muscle strength. As it is involved in so many body processes, there is potentially so much that could go wrong.
Our main source of Vitamin D is not from the diets, but from sunlight. There are not many foods that contain significant amounts of Vitamin D and it is rarely possible to meet daily Vitamin D requirements through diet alone. This can be especially a problem with being indoors too much. Vitamin D can be found in oily fish (such as herring, salmon and mackerel), margarine and some fortified milk varieties and some UV exposed mushrooms. Adequate Vitamin D levels can usually be maintained through normal day-to-day outdoor exposure. Obviously during the COVID-19 lockdowns and for other reasons, this can be a problem.
Vitamin D deficiency is a relatively common problem with around 5-10% of the population having one. The rates of deficiency are generally very similar for both men and women. In winter, rates of Vitamin D deficiency can be particularly high for those living in areas where the winter is harsher and they stay indoors more. Those who are at a greater risk for a Vitamin D deficiency include those who have darker skin; spend most of their time indoors; are obese; those who are housebound or institutionalized; those who cover up for cultural or religious reasons; those who live in colder climates; those who spend more time indoors; certain medications can lower it; those who have diets that are very low in fat; babies of Vitamin D deficient mothers; and those with osteoporosis.
The health effects of being deficient in Vitamin D are multiple and include a higher risk for things like fatigue; heart disease and high blood pressure; diabetes mellitus; infections and immune system disorders; falls in older people; some types of cancer, such as colon, prostate and breast cancers; mood changes and depression; and multiple sclerosis. More recently, a deficiency in Vitamin D has been associated with a greater risk of getting COVID-19 and having a poorer outcome with it. Athletes have a higher risk for a range of musculoskeletal problems, especially things like stress fractures.
Given how common the problem is, it does makes sense that if you have one or more of the risk factors for a deficiency that you take a dietary Vitamin D supplement. This could be part of a multi-vitamin or a specific Vitamin D supplement. It is best to get advice from your doctor if you are concerned or have any questions about this.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.