Vitamin D: You’ve likely heard of vitamin, in some way or another. Maybe you’ve eyed it on your smoothie bottle, or pondered what it was doing in your moisturizer, but never really known exactly why we need it, and what role it performs in our bodies. Dr. Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic gives us the basics of vitamin D, and why it’s necessary for us and our bone health.

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is sometimes nicknamed ‘the sunshine vitamin’, as our skin

produces it naturally in a direct response to sunlight. The UK winters don’t exactly stimulate the process – although (at times) the weather is sunny, there is not enough UVB light, essential in vitamin D production in the body. So even if you’re outside in winter, your body cannot produce the vitamin it needs.

Vitamin D has several important functions, but one of the most important is regulating the body’s absorption of calcium. Calcium can only help to build bones at full potential if the body has enough vitamins. Lack of vitamins results in a vitamin D deficiency – a problem in the UK, as the weather prevents a high amount of the population from getting the vitamin they need.

What are the symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency?

In adults, symptoms may manifest in the following ways:

  • Through tiredness, feeling aches and pains, and generally feeling lethargic or unwell
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Excessive sweating

In children, as bones are forming and developing, vitamin deficiency may lead to ‘softer’ bones, resulting in conditions like rickets, or skeletal deformities such as knocked knees and bow legs. Low vitamin can also cause low calcium levels, which can cause muscle cramps and seizures in the very young.

What problems can Vitamin D deficiency cause in adults?

Low levels of vitamins are linked to bone conditions such as Osteomalacia, where bones become soft or weak due to loss of calcium and other minerals, and osteoporosis, where bone density decreases, and bones become more porous and break due to weakness over time.

How can we increase Vitamin D intake?

Some foods and drinks are fortified with vitamins, especially in countries in the northern hemisphere. Cereals, margarine, and some dairy products such as milk may have vitamins added to them. There are also foods in which vitamin naturally occurs, such as egg yolks and fatty/oily fish.

However, it is difficult for children, and sometimes adults, to get the right amount of vitamin D through food alone. There are many multivitamin supplements on the market that can help increase vitamin levels, and calcium supplements may also contain vitamin D.

Those with low vitamins also require more calcium in their diet. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products such as yogurt, milk, cheese, or tofu, which can be important for those who avoid dairy products.

It is also important to stress that while sunlight exposure plays a key role in vitamin production, you shouldn’t be reaching for your beach towel and deck chair with abandon. Ten minutes of exposure is usually enough, as any more can cause reddening and burning. Too much sun exposure is linked to skin cancer, so as with most things in life, getting the balance right is essential.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin is an essential part of the prevention of osteoporosis and other related conditions. Talk to your doctor or contact the London Osteoporosis clinic about the best ways to include these nutrients in your diet, and daily routine.

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