Vitamin D why take it?
Unbelievably there is little research being done into the UK population in regard to how deficient we are, even when Vitamin D has been so extensively researched in the last 5 years world wide in regards to it’s affects on the body.
In regards to the UK what we do know that there has been an increase in admissions to hospitals with rickets in the last 15 years. Official figures show that 4,638 children admitted to NHS hospitals in 2013/14 were found to be suffering a Vitamin D deficiency, compared with 1,398 cases in 2009/10. In this day and age most of us consider rickets to be a thing of the past, but that just isn’t the case and I remember working in a practice whilst doing my clinical practise and the homeopath telling me how she was worried about the amount of children she was seeing who’s parents didn’t even realise that their child had rickets.
So it’s increasing in the under 16 population and is something we should be taking note of if we wish to protect our children’s health, both physically and mentally, as well as their immunity for the long term. This is highly likely because less children playing outside than they used to, and they aren’t eating the foods where you would find Vitamin D, my mother fed us liver, not many of us eat it anymore.
A recent nationwide survey in the United Kingdom showed that more than 50% of the adult population have insufficient levels of Vitamin D and that 16% have severe deficiency during winter and spring. Which many of you might recognise from some of the symptoms I will talk about later on. The survey also demonstrated a gradient of prevalence across the UK, with highest rates in Scotland, Northern England, and Northern Ireland. Those of you from Northern Ireland where I’m now practising might want to take note of this in particular.
From the Derby Hospital website Vitamin D deficiency is said to be very common in the UK with an estimated 60 – 70 % of the population being insufficient. So it is widely known, the different areas of research and information within the NHS varies, but why this isn’t being addressed if the hospital’s know there is an issue within certain groups in our society, therefore the NHS knows that this is an issue in our society.
Vitamin D is actually a fairly inexpensive supplement to take, because for most of the year getting out into the sunlight isn’t really that costly at all during the summer, therefore we only really need to be supplementing our diets during winter.
Unfortunately, only a handful of foods contain significant amounts of this vitamin, and deficiency is extremely common and this means we can only get about 10-20% of vitamin D from our food, so the rest has be gained from exposure to the sun or via supplementation.
I was left as a child to get out and play, all day, after school, in our holidays, so we were outside in all but the worst of weathers. We enjoyed it, we were free, now I see children taken from one activity to another in cars, does anyone walk anywhere any more, even the shortest of distances are driven, or they are in school and studying much longer than we ever did, and then at home they are in front of screens that do not deliver Vitamin D to them.
Vitamin D can be produced out of cholesterol in the skin, when it is exposed to the sun, and when we are eating the right diets, yes cholesterol is important. The ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun provide the energy needed for the reaction to occur, so sunlight is essential to us.
Many researchers now worry that excessive use of sunscreen, which was encouraged to prevent UV-induced DNA damage and skin cancer, is leading to an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency – particularly in a country like the UK, where UV exposure is moderate in comparison to Australia where the recommendations for sunscreen originated.
Now Vitamin d is more like a hormone than a vitamin that is produced out of cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun, so cholesterol is good for you.
Who is most at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, well those with poor exposure to UVB light, which are likely to include your elderly who during winter many will rarely will go out, you’ve got those in pregnancy and those who are breast feeding. Those with pigmented skin, if you have reduced capability with your liver it will give you a reduced capacity to store the Vitamin D, and those with kidney issues are going to lead to a reduced ability to activate it. Also drugs, don’t do it kids…but seriously, you have several medications that hinder the take up of Vitamin D so you need to look on the label but they include:
Rifampicin, Antiretroviral drugs, anticonvulsants, cholestyramine, glucocorticoids, all leave you with a lowered vitamin D level.
The affects of vitamin d are wide, they include telling the cells in the gut to absorb calcium and phosphorus, beneficial for your bone health, immune function and protection against cancer. We all know that calcium is essential for bone growth, but few know that we need vitamin D for the actual calcium adsorption, hence why just taking calcium tables for bone health is detrimental if you have’t got the Vitamin D or K2 levels to deal with it. There is also growing scientific evidence that vitamin D is responsible for a whole host of other health benefits, including maintaining a healthy heart and brain, preventing cancer and diabetes and boosting your immune system.
Most recently I Interviewed Obhi Chatterjee about his new film You must be nuts, which is about dementia and fats in the diet. Now vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people, according to one of the most robust study of its kind ever conducted.
An international team, led by Dr David Llewellyn at the University of Exeter Medical School, found that study participants who were severely Vitamin D deficient were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Now this is serious because lets go back to the stat’s some of the NHS consider anything between 40-70% of us to be deficient depending on which NHS hospital website you read!
Dr Llewellyn said: “We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising – we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated.
How else does Vitamin D deficiency show itself?
Deficiency has also been linked to osteoporosis, reduced mineral density and increased risk of falls and fractures in the elderly, the studies have also shown that people with lower vitamin D levels increase their risk of heart disease, diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D also helps with infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, colds, and flu. While vitamin D can play a role in limiting cancer metastasis through limiting tissue destruction, it may also control cancer by stopping cell growth, as has been shown for breast cancer cells. However, the majority of evidence for a role of vitamin D in cancer comes from studies showing that vitamin D deficiency and low sun exposure are associated with increased risk of cancer incidence and mortality. Cancers linked to vitamin D deficiency include breast, colon, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, oesophageal, gall bladder, gastric, rectal, renal and vulvar cancer, melanoma and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Vitamin D also plays a vital role in maternal health during pregnancy and lactation, particularly during the second and third trimesters. Children born in spring have been shown to have the highest rates of mental disorders (such as depression and schizophrenia) and autoimmune diseases (such as type 1 diabetes and asthma) and expectant mothers are at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency during this time. Higher doses of vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy have been shown to reduce infections and the risk of preeclampsia in mothers, and to increase the bone and muscle strength of their children. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with the severity of polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms and fertility rates can be enhanced by vitamin D supplementation.
So you need to get out and expose a large part of your body to the sunlight…obviously I don’t want you to get arrested, or to have to come and bail you out! But just exposing your face and hands isn’t going to be enough, hence why those in the North of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland really do need to consider taking a supplement at this time of year.