Despite its name, Vitamin D is actually a hormone with every single cell in your body having a receptor for it. The vitamin helps the body absorb calcium and regulate levels of phosphate as well as key neurotransmitters.
This means it is vital to grow and maintain strong bones, for effective muscle movement and for healthy nerve function and brain development. Vitamin D also aids the immune system in fighting off bacteria and viruses.
Too little Vitamin D can therefore be very damaging to the body, resulting in soft, thin, brittle bones – known as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults – as well as dozens of other health problems.
All you need to know...
There are lots of great reasons why enjoying the great outdoors enhances our health and happiness – from exercise to relaxation and being inspired by the beautiful natural world.
But one vital health benefit of being outside that gets less attention is the need to boost our Vitamin D levels.
However, even with a healthy balanced diet...
...taking in all of the above, it is very difficult to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone. The most important source of Vitamin D is from sunlight.
Your body harvests vitamin D from cholesterol under your skin when you are exposed to the UV rays in sunlight – you therefore make more in the middle of the day when the sun is stronger or when you are in direct sunlight than in the shade or when it is overcast.
In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are only strong enough to make vitamin D on exposed skin from April to September. During the colder months Brits are reliant on our body’s vitamin D stores and what we can attain through diet, but research has shown that by the springtime many of people in the UK are lacking in this vital nutrient.
This means it is even more important to make the most of the warmer weather to get outside, breathe the fresh air and soak up the long hours of daylight while they last.
...for many, involve long hours enclosed by office walls, sitting in a car or train then on a sofa in front of the TV, with very little time spent outside. Even where people make an effort to be healthy and exercise, much of this is done inside a gym or fitness studio rather than outdoors.
It is therefore unsurprising that about a fifth of the UK population is deficient in vitamin D – a figure that rises significantly as winter progresses so by March much of the population will have low levels, unless they are taking supplements.
How much vitamin D do we need?
Babies up to one-year-old need 8.5 to 10 micrograms a day, after which everyone requires 10 micrograms a day.
The Department of Health recommends supplements for babies who are being fed on breastmilk – formula milk is fortified with it – and for children aged between one and four years old.
People aged five and over in the UK should be able to produce enough vitamin D unaided in the spring and summer but are advised to consider a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms during the winter months.
How do we know if we are vitamin D deficient?
If you live in the UK and do not get outside much, the chances are that are certain times of year, your vitamin D will drop to lower than recommended levels. So we would advise everyone to make sure they get a healthy dose of sunlight in spring and summer – without burning of course!
But there are also some early warning signs which should sound the vitamin D deficiency alarm.
Vitamin D activates the genes that support a strong immune system so deficiency makes you susceptible to infection. Several studies have shown a link between low vitamin D and respiratory tract infections like colds, bronchitis and pneumonia.
So if you notice you are getting sick a lot and are constantly sniveling your way through winter and summer with colds, it might be time to take some supplements.
This is a tricky one because tiredness can have so many causes and many of us simply don’t get enough sleep these days. But there is a big difference between feeling tired after an illness or bad night and a constant daytime fatigue dragging you down. If you do feel consistently weary, a lack of vitamin D is one of the factors worth investigating as research has shown this is a common contributing factor.
Vitamin D is needed to activate the genes that produce and release our so-called ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, so levels of this mood-boosting chemical drop with a lack of vitamin D. This could explain why so many of us feel a bit miserable come February. If you are feeling perpetually low or irritable it could be time to take a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D also helps regulate levels of dopamine – the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward – which is just another good reason to make sure you are getting enough.
As we’ve already explained, vitamin D is vital for maintaining a healthy skeleton so a lack can result in aches and pains in your bones, most commonly in the knees and back. This is an early warning signal that should be addressed quickly before the deficiency develops into a more severe condition such as rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia. The lack of vitamin D and therefore calcium uptake also makes bones weak and brittle and much more susceptible to fractures and breaks.
Vitamin D is vital to maintain healthy levels of phosphate in the body, a nutrient needed for muscle movement. When vitamin D levels get too low, muscles are no longer fed by enough phosphate and become weaker. If you experience chronic muscle fatigue, lack of vitamin D could be the cause so get some sunshine or supplements.
Strangely a sweaty head is one of the first signs of vitamin D deficiency which is why newborn babies are checked for this. Usually sweating is good for the health, releasing toxins and cooling the body but excessive sweats may indicate a problem so if you’re feeling constantly clammy, it is worth checking.
Sunshine is the best medicine
Of course, long term vitamin D deficiency, like the lack of any key nutrient, has many other damaging health implications so if you suffer one of more of the symptoms above, it really is time you got outside more.
While supplements are available, research suggests sunshine is by far the most effective way to give your body the right amount of this crucial substance.
A trip to see us at Porlock Weir Hotel to explore beautiful Exmoor, where you can enjoy walking, wild swimming, cycling, climbing, horse riding and many more fun outdoor activities. It could not only provide you with a fantastic holiday but also give your body a much needed hit of Vitamin D. So, come and visit us – what better excuse!