Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D Breakdown

Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more common. We probably know of at least one friend who has been diagnosed as deficient by their doctor but why does it occur so frequently and is it something we need to worry about?

What is Vitamin D?
Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D when we’re in the sun as our skin responds to sunlight. It’s a vital vitamin that helps our bodies regulate calcium and phosphorus uptake as well as facilitating normal immune function. This helps us maintain strong bones, muscle and overall health.

How much Vitamin D do I need?
Adults require 5 micrograms of Vitamin D until about aged 50, after which we need about 10 micrograms which then increases to 15 micrograms at 70 years and older. Children need 5 micrograms until aged 18.

What happens if I don’t have enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to Rickets (soft bones) in children and Osteoporosis in adults as Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb Calcium. Studies have also linked other illnesses to Vitamin D deficiency including an increased risk of Cardio Vascular Disease, increased risk of cognitive impairment while children can experience severe asthma.

Vitamin D has also shown to have a potentially protective role. Some studies show that Vitamin D could play a role in preventing and or treating type 1 and 2 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis and hypertension.

Where do I find Vitamin D?
While some foods have Vitamin D, they usually don’t have nearly enough for our daily recommended amount. Foods such as fish, eggs and margarine (with added Vitamin D) are good sources, but still don’t contain enough for us to get our daily required amount. The best way to make sure your body has enough Vitamin D is to head outside.

Of course this needs to be done being sun smart, as the same UV rays that provide our bodies with Vitamin D can also cause skin cancer. Here in Australia you only need about 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure in summer. Avoid times when the UV is at it’s highest, so early morning is best. While banned in Australia, I know some countries still allow sun beds or tanning beds. Never use these period as they increase your risk to develop skin cancer. Rather spend a few minutes outside first thing in the morning watering the plants or enjoying a cup of tea. Don’t spend extended periods in the sun as this will increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Chat to your Dr to see what they recommend first.

Supplements?
If going in the sun for a few minutes isn’t an option for you, your Dr can recommend some supplements for you to take. First consult your Dr before you start taking Vitamin D supplements as taking too much can lead to some unpleasant side effects. Most people don’t require supplementation though, so chat to your Dr to see if they think you require supplementation first.

Who’s at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency.
These include:
– Being indoors most days
– Having more melanin in your skin
– People who wear clothing that cover their whole or most of their body
– People who take medication that can affect Vitamin D metabolism
– Being obese
– People with a disease or disability that affect Vitamin D metabolism such as renal disease, end stage liver disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Summary:
– Vitamin D can be found in some foods such as fish, eggs and margarine and milk products to which Vitamin D has been added, but isn’t enough to meet our daily requirements.
– Sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D, but be sun smart.
– Supplementation can be a great option for people who can’t go out in the sun and expose their skin to UV. Talk to your Dr about supplementation if you fall into that category.
– Several factors can put you at risk for developing Vitamin D deficiency.
– Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones, muscles and an immune system.
– If you think you’re at risk of a Vitamin D deficiency, book an appointment with your Dr so he can schedule the correct tests for you.

How to help your immune system this winter

We’re right in the start of winter and you would have noticed a few co-workers already succumbing to winter bugs. You would also have seen a sudden increase in “immune booster” products being advertised to us, but do they even work?

I thought I’d share a few scientifically proven ways you can help keep your immune system healthy and balanced this winter while addressing a few myths at the same time.

Boosting your immune system
We’ve all heard about boosting our immune system, but is that even possible? Our immune system is quite complex consisting of hundreds of different cells doing a variety of different jobs. It consists out of the innate response (which identifies unfriendly bugs often leading us to have a fever or feeling under the weather) and the acquired response (which swoops in and battles against the unfriendly bugs). So the question is, what exactly are these products claiming to boost? Is it antibodies, or white cells or nothing really? Scientifically speaking, you can’t really “boost” your immune system. You can however try to keep things in balance and make some lifestyle and dietary changes that will help you have a healthy immune system.

Supplements
Supplements only work when you have a poor diet and find yourself deficient. Studies have shown that taking supplements if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet won’t improve your immune system. Taking high dosages of vitamins can actually have an adverse effect and can lead to toxicity, especially in vitamin D and A.

What about herbal supplements like Echinacea? Unfortunately there just haven’t been enough studies to support the claims that herbs have a boosting effect on the immune system. Some of the studies have also been criticised for being too small or for being badly designed, which means they don’t supply us with enough supporting evidence.

Probiotics fall in the same category as herbal supplements. Scientists have started to look at the role our gut bacteria plays on our overall health, but it’s still early days and currently we can’t conclusively state that taking probiotics as a supplement will help boost the immune system. At the moment eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in fibre is a scientifically proven way to keep the gut healthy and as a result, help keep your immune system healthy. As more research is done in this area over the next few years we might be able to understand better what effect taking a probiotic supplement might have on our immune system.

Exercise
Staying active especially as the days become darker and colder can be a challenge. But it’s one of the ways you can help your immune system. Exercise helps to keep blood pressure and body weight under control. Working out also helps protect the body against some diseases. So instead of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in, get up and get moving.

Sleep
Sleep in general won’t help improve your immune system, but getting enough restorative sleep will help keep your immune system healthy. Most adults these days get less than 7 hours sleep a night, which doesn’t leave much time for restorative sleep. A few tips include making sure you switch all blue light appliances off at least 30 minutes before bed (this includes your mobile phone), winding down in bed with a good book, meditation or a relaxing bath and make sure you don’t drink too much alcohol as it can impact your sleep quality.

Diet
Raw food diets, juice cleanses and detox diets are fad diets. Despite what they claim, they won’t help keep your immune system healthy. You need to make sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients it needs and the best way to do it is by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Focus on incorporating a wide range of fruit, vegetables and fibre rich grains and pulses. This will make sure you get all the micronutrients your body needs to remain healthy. Make sure you limit your intake of processed foods and red meat.

Conclusion

If you do have a compromised immune system, make sure you chat to your GP about steps to take to help protect you against bugs this winter. There’s so much misinformation dressed up as science floating around on the internet and it can be tricky trying to sort fact from fiction. Often times, having a healthy body is usually the answer and it doesn’t require fancy, expensive lattes (although they are pretty), gruelling diets or pricy pills. While it’s not very sexy, a balanced wholefood mainly plant-based diet combined with exercise is one of the best ways to take care of your body and make sure your immune system remains healthy.