Vitamin D has got to be the most underrated vitamin. Whilst it is known to have a role in bone health, the large amount of attention it deserves is not being received in the slightest. Not even close.
Vitamin D is historically known to prevent osteoporosis but it’s actually a standout vitamin for other areas of health too. It’s shown to have a very important role in our immune system, after tons of research made the connection between a vitamin D deficiency and immune related conditions such as autoimmunity and chronic infections. Research has also made links to vitamin D’s role in depression, brain development, cognitive decline and prevention of some cancers. Many years ago now in my final year of university I wrote a literature review on vitamin D's role in breast cancer prevention and I was impressed with just how important this vitamin really is.
During sunnier months Vitamin D3 is produced in the body through the conversion of a cholesterol based molecule produced in the skin after sun exposure - but there are a few factors affecting this such as how much we cover up with clothes and sunscreen, whether our skin is darker, time of the day, etc. Sunscreen is an important element to protecting your skin from cancer but we might not need to heavily apply it if you are only exposing yourself to the sun for 20-30 minutes per day in the less hot hours of the day. This is a great way to get vitamin D.
Also, society today calls for very different daily activities, not requiring walks to the supermarket, relaxing in the park or prioritising spending time outside in nature. Overall, we’re not all that exposed to the sun. Certain medications can also increase the risk of a vitamin D deficiency such as glucocorticoid drugs which are steroid medications often prescribed for conditions such as eczema, asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, some cancers and other skin conditions.
What a deficiency can look like
Common signs and symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency can include:
-Chronic lower back pain
-Cardiovascular threats such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and arterial dysfunction
-Fibromyalgia (it’s estimated that a large percentage of patients diagnosed with this condition are actually suffering from a vitamin D deficiency)
-Increased risk of fractures
Dietary sources of vitamin D, named vitamin D3, are found in animal products. These animal products are herring, tuna, sardines, salmon, beef, liver, eggs and butter. Cod liver oil is also a good source. Animal foods contain Vitamin D3 which has a 50-80% bioavailability rate and helps us promote calcium absorption for strong and healthy bones.
Wild mushrooms contain vitamin D but these might not be the mushrooms you’re finding in the supermarket. Those guys are likely grown in the dark - and like us, plants need UVB to make vitamin D. However, the type of vitamin D that would be present in wild mushrooms (D2) are not a form as bioavailable as from animal products (D3).
In saying that, the amount of vitamin D3 found in animal foods is not huge and it’s quite difficult to get all the vitamin D you need from food. Currently, the NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) reports that it is almost impossible to get adequate vitamin D through diet alone, highlighting the importance of sun exposure. It’s also important to know the symptoms of deficiency and/or to get tested.