Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin
Posted on 16th December 2020 at 07:16
How things change. A few years ago, Vitamin D was only mentioned in connection with helping maintain healthy bones. Although, as an aside, this is still the case on NHS Direct when we googled it a few days ago…
Moving swiftly on (!), the good news is that the message is finally getting out that Vitamin D does so much more than help support healthy bones. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming clear that it’s just as important as Vitamin C in supporting the Immune System. And much more besides. There’s also been some interesting recent research in connection with the current madness – as well as to winter bugs in general – showing just how important it is. Not only in helping reduce susceptibility, but also in improving the outcome, should the worst happen. More about this later.
Vitamin D was first identified in the 1930’s. It’s fat soluble, meaning it’s found in naturally fatty foods such as oily fish, egg yolks, raw milk / cheese, liver, red meat, spinach and green leafy vegetables. As you may know, spinach and green leafy vegetables are also well known for being high in Calcium and Vitamin K, highlighting the close relationship between these three nutrients.
Although there are currently five known forms of Vitamin D – D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5 – the two most important are D2 and D3. D2, Ergocalciferol, is a synthetic form of Vitamin D made by irradiating fungal and plant matter. D3, Cholecalciferol, is the natural form made in our bodies after exposure to sunlight.
As the natural form of Vitamin D, D3 is much easier for the body to absorb and use; as well as being much more potent than Vitamin D2. For this reason, natural health practitioners will recommend D3 rather than D2, as this is the form the body is designed to use.
As already mentioned, Vitamin D3 is well known for helping maintain healthy bones. It does this by facilitating the absorption of Calcium and Magnesium, the key constituents of Bone. However, it doesn’t stop there, with Vitamin D also playing a part in the absorption of many other nutrients including Copper, Zinc, Iron and Selenium.
This is why natural Calcium supplements contain not only Calcium but also Magnesium, Copper and Phosphorus as well as Vitamins D and K; for the simple reason that they are ALL needed to maintain health bones. It’s also the reason why high potency Calcium only supplements don’t have the desired effect as, on its own, Calcium can’t be absorbed by the body. And, sadly, they can often have the opposite effect as Magnesium and Phosphates are released from the bones as the body tries to process the high doses of Calcium.
Vitamin D3 also helps prevent the build up of Calcium in the Arteries which leads to Atherosclerosis, otherwise known as hardening of the Arteries. This, in turn, increases the risk of developing Heart Disease along with Heart Attacks and Strokes. Low levels of Vitamin D3 have also been linked to High Blood Pressure, elevated Cholesterol levels and Type 2 Diabetes.
Vitamin D3, but not D2, helps ensure Cells mature normally while reducing the incidence of abnormal cell division, which can lead on to the growth of tumours and Cancer. Interestingly Vitamin C also plays a part in this, being well known for its anti tumour effect.
Vitamin D3 also helps increase levels of Monoamines – more commonly known as neurotransmitters – which play an important role in regulating our mood. The best known is Serotonin, which is associated with feelings of well being and happiness as well as helping set body rhythms, appetite and sleep. In fact, many conventional anti depressants aim to raise the levels of monoamines in the brain. It’s led to Vitamin D becoming known as the sunshine vitamin. Not only because it’s produced when the skin is exposed to natural light, but also because of its effect on the mood.
And let’s quickly clear up the most common misunderstanding about Vitamin D generally. This is that it’s only produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight, the stronger the better. While it’s true to say that greater amounts are produced in sunlight; the good news is that it’s produced any time the skin is exposed to natural light. While lower levels are produced on a dull – or cloudy day – or during the Winter months, it is still produced. This is why it’s so important to spend time outside every day all year round, not just in the summer.
Which brings us to Vitamin D3 and the Immune System. It’s now becoming clear that Vitamin D3 helps support the Immune System in two different ways. Not only does it help support the Immune System overall, but also helps improve the speed and efficiency of the immune response. In addition – and very important as far as winter bugs are concerned – it also helps support Lung function and so the ability to fight respiratory infections.
Over the last few months, there’s been an increasing amount of empirical evidence showing that Vitamin D3 plays an important part in reducing susceptibility to COVID and also in improving the outcome if the worst should happen. This has been confirmed by research which has found that patients with the lowest levels of Vitamin D levels are the hardest hit. Sadly, many of these are already in the high risk category due to their age, frailty or ongoing medical conditions. There have been lots of articles about this, many of which are very technical, so we’re going to offer you two options (!). Here’s the link to a more technical one and another to a much more user friendly one.
The current NHS recommendation for Vitamin D generally is 10 micrograms – 400 IU (International Units) – a day. Although, as already mentioned, it’s still being talked of more in terms of a bone support rather than for the Immune System. In addition, like many official guidelines, this is considered to be on the low side, particularly when compared with the levels produced naturally by the body during time spent outside in the sun or natural light. For example, between 10,000 and 20,000 IU of Vitamin D3 can be produced by the body after only 30 minutes sunbathing.
So, what can you do to help yourself?
Spending time outside every day – all year round (!) – is the best way to boost and maintain Vitamin D3 levels. It also has lots of other health benefits as well as the “feel good” factor. In addition, regularly eating the foods already mentioned will help, as well as improving the diet overall.
Taking Vitamin D3 – ideally also containing Vitamin K2 to provide the broadest possible all round support – can also help. However, this should only be used to help bolster the other measures, rather than being seen as a quick fix.
As always, the choice is yours.
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