Vitamin D: A practical guide

One of the most important vitamins that our body needs to stay healthy is vitamin D. What’s even better is that it’s available for free from the sun! However, getting enough of this essential nutrient each day is no easy task.

Vitamin D, derived from the sun, is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps keep our bones healthy and strong, increases our body’s ability to absorb calcium, improves our immune system, and helps facilitate healthy cell growth. It has also been credited with improving our overall mood and mental health.

 

How do you get Vitamin D?

Nicknamed ‘the sunshine vitamin’, the primary source of vitamin D for our bodies is from exposure to the sun. When the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVB) hit our skin, it activates our tissues to make vitamin D in our body, and then stores it in our fat cells to use as needed.

However, the use of sunscreen, darker skin colour, obesity, and advancing age all decrease our body’s ability to absorb UVB rays and therefore, vitamin D.

Here in Australia, too much exposure to the sun has also been proven to significantly increase our risk of skin cancer. Therefore, finding the right balance of exposing our skin to sunshine to derive the adequate vitamin D can be tough. How much you need may depend upon your personal circumstances, but recommendations from the National Health and Medical Research Council¹ include:

  • 5 micrograms (200 IU) for children, adolescents and adults aged 19–50 years
  • 10 micrograms (400 IU) for adults aged 51–70 years
  • 15 micrograms (600 IU) for adults over 70 years of age.

Effects of vitamin D deficiency

If you have a vitamin D deficiency, it can have serious short and long-term effects on your physical and mental health. Consult your GP or health care practitioner as soon as possible if you recognise any of these symptoms:

Physical – Prolonged vitamin D deficiency can adversely affect your bone density, cause brittle bones, decrease your body’s ability to repair breaks, and can lead to rickets in children, and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) or osteoporosis in adults.

Mental – Lack of vitamin D impacts your mental health and can lead to mental illness such as depression and anxiety. Early symptoms may include overwhelming sadness, lethargy, loss of sexual interest, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide.

Ways to Increase your vitamin D

If natural sunlight is in short supply, or you need to limit your exposure to the sun, it’s important to supplement your vitamin D with food and/or supplements. A combination of all three will help ensure your body continues to function at its optimum level.

There are a few natural food sources such as mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon, as well as fish liver oils and animal fats that provide excellent sources of vitamin D. You can also choose foods fortified with vitamin D, like orange juice and cereal to help supplement your intake.

If you think you may need a vitamin D supplement, check with your GP first. Too much vitamin D can cause side effects. Your doctor may do a blood test to determine if you’re deficient before recommending supplements.

You may also need to take a calcium supplement to assist with building and strengthening your bones. But once again, speak to your GP first.

If you’re experiencing mental health issues due to low vitamin D, try increasing your daily exercise and meditation, eating foods rich in vitamin D, and get plenty of sleep. All of these are positive ways to improve your mental health and your overall wellbeing.

It’s also important to check in with your GP for a mental health assessment, especially if you’re experiencing constant or worsening mental health symptoms.

Ensuring your vitamin D intake is adequate, whether by more time in the sun, or with food and supplements, will help your body and mind be stronger, healthier and happier for years to come.

Should you require the addition of vitamins or supplements to your diet, you can shop a full range through the Independence Australia online store.

References:

[1] National Health and Medical Research Council, Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand: Vitamin D, https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-d

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