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The role of vitamin D in health

The role of vitamin D in health

Despite being able to make vitamin D ourselves, a lack of vitamin D is very common. Since it’s so vital to health and longevity, lets take a closer look..

Vitamin D (also referred to as calciferol) is a fat soluble vitamin. It is obtained through the direct action of sunlight on the skin or through dietary nutrients from food. It is best known for its role in keeping bones strong and healthy. It promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal bone mineralisation, thereby helping to prevent bone conditions such as osteoporosis.

Its benefits however go way beyond our bones, it keeps our muscles functioning properly and is vital for a strong immune system. 

Most people in the world meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight. The factors that affect UV radiation exposure, individual responsiveness, and uncertainties about the amount of sun exposure needed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels make it difficult to provide guidelines on how much sun exposure is required for sufficient vitamin D synthesis.  

There is also the issue of over exposure to sunlight, so if trying to obtain your daily dose of this sunshine vitamin, it is vital to follow sun safety advice and make sure you don’t allow your skin to burn, as this can be linked to increased risk of other health conditions such as skin cancer.

Definitions of vitamin D sufficiency vary, with Australian organisations generally considering levels lower than 50 nmol/L as suboptimal.

Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources as well as eggs, dairy products, wild mushrooms, fortified soy milk and tofu and sprouted seeds.

Obtaining sufficient vitamin D from natural food sources alone can be difficult. For many people, consuming vitamin D containing foods and exposing themselves to some sunlight are essential for maintaining a healthy vitamin D status. However, some groups such as the elderly or pregnant women might need dietary supplements to meet their vitamin D requirements.

Recommended nutrient reference values for Australians and different ages can be found at https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-d 

As always, if you are concerned about your vitamin D status it is best to chat with your doctor or health care practitioner.  

References

Australian Government Department of Health. (2019).  Vitamin D status. Retrieved May 19th 2021, from https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-g-targeted-maternal-health-tests/vitamin-d-status#471-background 

Cancer Council. (2021). Vitamin D: how much sun do we need? Retrieved May 19th 2021, from https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/vitamin-d 

National Institute of Health. (2021). Vitamin D fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved, May 19th 2021 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/