all about vitamin D – the sunshine supplement

Despite its name, vitamin D is a steroid hormone, which we get naturally from sun exposure, but also through supplementation and some foods. It has been estimated that more than 40-75% of the world’s population is deficient in vitamin D, with research linking sub optimal levels to a dramatic increase in the susceptibility to a wide range of diseases.

Scientists have mapped the points at which vitamin D interacts with our DNA – and identified over two hundred genes that it directly influences. Researchers have also found 2,776 binding sites for the vitamin D receptor along the length of the genome.

This clearly highlights the critical importance of vitamin D and its affect on so many aspects of our health. In summary vitamin D plays an important role in:

  • The control and division of healthy cell growth
  • Effective gene expression
  • Healthy immune function
  • Bone development and healthy muscles much more.
  • Fertility enhancement and reproductive health
  • Mood and brain health
  • Sleep quality
  • Cognitive health, depression anxiety
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Auto immune diseases, e.g. multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and type 1 diabetes and much more

sunlight – our best source

Our best source of vitamin D is through sunlight exposure and our individual requirements depend on our own unique skin tone. For the fairer maiden, a good 20-30 minutes of daily sunshine is needed. For the more exotic, richer skin tone – requirements double to around 40 minutes daily.

Difficult to achieve during the cooler months and with long winters and somewhat shorter summers – many of us are left deficient. It is also worth noting that sunscreen inhibits vitamin D absorption, thereby increasing the likelihood of a deficiency. My recommendation is to get out and about in the non-burning, mid morning and late afternoon times of the day – without sunscreen on. Exposure to the face, chest, arms and legs is important where possible.

testing + supplementation

Certainly if you are prone to any of the above conditions, then it is worth investigating via a routine GP or specialist path lab blood test. It is also worth noting that the reference range used for this test in standard GP practices around the world does often not fall in line with the latest research. So if your results come back ‘normal’, but you are exhibiting signs of a vitamin D deficiency, then it would be worthwhile investigating this further.

It is well documented that the required vitamin D intake depends on the individual’s age, race, lifestyle, and even latitude of residence. The latest Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, 2010, indicates 10,000 IU/day is considered the NOAEL (no observed adverse effect level). 4000 IU/day can be considered a safe upper intake level for adults aged 19 and older.

Again, sun is our best source, but if your exposure is limited, an effective way to enhance your status is through oral drops or spray. Always opt for D3 over D2 as it has a higher bioavailability and so easier to absorb. When supplementing with Vitamin D, Vitamin K2 intake is also considered essential be it through supplementation and/or food.

Lastly it is however important to note that when supplementing, it is important to avoid your vitamin D levels from becoming too high, as this can also be problematic. Hence the importance of always monitoring supplementation through blood tests and, or the guidance of a qualified and registered naturopath, nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner.

Merran is a Naturopath, Medical Nutritionist, Herbalist, Homeopath, Certified BodyTalk Practitioner and published writer.

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