Towards the end of last year I had my blood screened to make sure my body hadn’t taken too much of a bashing from the recent gluten attack I had suffered. Miraculously, the three months of beating my digestive system had taken hadn’t caused any major long-term disruption. However, there was one point my doctor made which is of interest to us all. Whilst he was preparing a colourful array of vials to fill with my red stuff, he flippantly announced that he wasn’t going to bother screening for vitamin D deficiency as I was, almost certainly, already deficient in it. I was quite shocked at this revelation. Not only do I eat a healthy diet we also have two dogs who ensure I also get a regular fix of daylight. I thought my required fix of vitamin D was more than catered for. Apparently not. The doctor briskly went on to suggest that I purchased vitamin D supplements not just for myself, but the entire family as “you’ll all be deficient”.
Like most people, I’ve always associated vitamin D deficiency as being something you would associate with the elderly, infirm or those locked in offices all day long and malnutrition.
So, what exactly is vitamin D, how would we normally expect to get our fix of it and why aren’t we getting enough of it anymore?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods. Our other source of vitamin D is via the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When these rays hit our skin they trigger vitamin D synthesis. Regardless of which of these sources your body gets its vitamin D hit from, it still needs to go through two more processes, called hydroxylations, within the body. The first takes place in the liver where vitamin D is converted into calcidiol. The second occurs in the kidneys where it is converted into its active form, calcitriol.
Once converted into its active state, vitamin D has some vital roles to play when it comes to our bodies. The first is to promote calcium absorption in the gut, whilst maintaining both serum calcium and phosphate levels to ensure normal bone mineralization. It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodelling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen, as seen in children with rickets or, the adult form, osteomalacia. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
But vitamin D’s role within the body doesn’t end there. It also plays a vital part in cell growth, both neuromuscular and immune function and reduction of inflammation, which lies at the root of many of today’s current chronic diseases.
So, where can we get our daily fix of vitamin D? Here’s a list of the top 10 natural sources of vitamin D and, once you look at this, you can start to see where my doctor was coming from:
- Sunlight promotes vitamin D synthesis via the skin.
- Cod liver oil 1 tsp (over 100% RDA)
- Sardines 85g (41% RDA)
- Salmon 85g (100% RDA)
- Mackerel 85g (100% RDA)
- Tuna 85g (57% RDA)
- Raw milk 1 cup (24% RDA)
- Caviar 30g (8% RDA)
- Eggs 1 large (10% RDA)
- Mushrooms 1 cup (1% RDA)
Here, in the UK, we have a massive issue with sunlight; we’re either not getting it or when we do we smother ourselves in sun cream. Hence the continual rise we’re seeing in vitamin D deficiency and, quite possibly, osteoporosis in the older age groups.
Looking at the remainder of the list, any vegetarian or vegan is going to have major issues in getting anywhere near the RDA of vitamin D from food sources. I can’t see anyone wanting to eat 100 cups of mushrooms, whatever the reason!
Which leaves us with supplements. For me, supplements are a bit like refined food; proceed with caution. Any company constantly offering supplements as part of a ‘2 for 1’ deal needs a bit of investigation and realistically is probably best avoided. If you don’t believe me, Google some of the more unusual ingredients they use to bind their supplements. If you’re going to take any supplements, pay a little more and buy a reputable brand. Many online stores will offer regular discounts if you subscribe. Or support one of your local independent natural food stores who will be able to give you free and invaluable advice on which supplement is the right one for you.
When it comes to vitamin D supplements it needs to be vitamin D3, otherwise known as cholecalciferol, which is the natural form of vitamin D. Before purchasing any supplements it is always advisable to check the small print if you have any special dietary requirements.
If you have any real concerns regarding your vitamin D levels, or perhaps symptoms relating to a deficiency, then you should of course discuss it with your doctor or natural health practitioner.