I am a Clinical Nutritionist and TV Health Journalist. For TEDx 2014, I did a workshop on Food for t...
4 ways to increase Vitamin D23 August 2014, by Kyrin Hall, PhD
Summertime... and the living is easy. During summer you tend to be more active, you get less ill and you generally feel better. Some research claims that vitamin D is responsible for our overall feeling of well-being during the summer months.
What exactly is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins because it is a pro-hormone that is produced in the skin of humans and animals during sun exposure. It’s also known as the "sunshine vitamin".
Most people living in the Northern Hemisphere have low levels of vitamin D as a result of inadequate or limited exposure to sunlight. Living in the Netherlands, like in all other northern European countries, residents are potentially at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
An improper diet can also cause a vitamin D deficiency.
Who’s at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Here are three groups which are most at risk of vitamin D efficiency.
› Children and the elderly are often at risk of a deficiency, especially if they are housebound. An adequate level of the vitamin D is imperative because it helps the body absorb calcium. Calcium and phosphate are two minerals that are essential for normal bone formation.
› People with naturally dark skin such as Mediterranean, African and Asian ethnicities can have a greater risk of low absorption. According to a Harvard study, the melanin, or ‘natural sunscreen’, in their skin slows down the absorption of the vitamin from the sun.
› People with excess weight can also have low levels of vitamin D. Being overweight decreases one’s ability to absorb the vitamin efficiently. Conversely people who have low vitamin D levels will have difficulty losing weight.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are:
› Chronic fatigue and tiredness
› Low immunity
› Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder
› Muscle cramps or weakness
› Bone fractures and osteoporosis
› Rickets in children
A mild deficiency is usually asymptomatic, and is very hard to diagnose.
How to maintain Vitamin D levels
So how can you ensure that you have adequate amounts of Vitamin D? Here are 4 factors that affect your Vitamin D absorption:
While sunscreen is necessary to help prevent skin cancer, it can lead to a lack of absorption. An SPF of 8 can block as much as 95 per cent of vitamin D absorption.
According to the Vitamin D Council, in order to get adequate absorption of Vitamin D, 40 per cent of your body would need to be exposed to the sun, without sunscreen, for two hours at midday.
Their research also indicates that the torso absorbs the most, then arms, legs and lastly hands and face. So... shirts off!
Taking a shower using soap within 48 hours after sun exposure or washing your entire body with soap can reduce the vitamin D absorption rate, according to The Natural Society.
Some reports indicate that it takes the body up to 48 hours to fully absorb the majority of vitamin D from the surface of your skin into the bloodstream. Washing with water alone does not appear to have that effect.
Getting your sunshine through a closed glass window also has an effect. Do you soak up the sunrays whilst in the office or sunbath on a closed patio? Vitamin D cannot penetrate glass, so if you are not getting the benefits of the direct sun, most of the effects are lost.
Getting outside for 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine three days a week is a good start to maintain the levels of vitamin D your body needs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. As a result, many foods are fortified with vitamin D, meaning that manufacturers add the vitamin to the food.
The best food sources for vitamin D are:
› Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel.
› Beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms provide small amounts.
› Vitamin D is added to breakfast cereals and to some brands of soy beverages, orange juice and yogurt. Check the nutrition panel on the food label.
› Milk is often fortified with vitamin D. It should be noted that foods made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified, unless stated.
Since it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone, you can choose to take a supplement. This is especially relevant if you are vegan or vegetarian. Before you do, verify the best options with your health practitioner or your doctor.
Take advantage of the sunshine
As we meander through the final days of summer, take advantage of the sunshine. Spend your lunch break eating outdoors or make plans to visit an outdoor market on the weekend.
Sunny days can be few and far between. So grab them and the sunshine vitamin when you can. Enjoy the rest of the summer!