How to tell if you’re low in vitamin D
In fact, it is thought that up to 30 per cent of Australian adults have low vitamin D levels, especially throughout Winter.
So here are some of the reasons vitamin D is so important, why we are at high risk of deficiencies and the signs and symptoms your levels may be on the low side.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that has a key role in helping calcium be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract to support the growth and maintenance of our bones, as well as controlling calcium levels in the blood.
The signs for low vitamin D levels include low mood, feelings of fatigue, joint and muscle pain and muscle weakness.
Low vitamin D levels has also been linked to a number of other health issues including neurological dysfunction, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancers although research into these associated disease states is in its early stages.
The biggest issue with low levels of vitamin D over time is that it puts our bone health at considerable risk. Low vitamin D results in high bone turnover, reduced bone density and an increased risk of fractures over time, especially in older people.
While we can get vitamin D from a few specific foods including egg yolks, oily fish including sardines and salmon, fortified milks and some types of mushrooms, the amounts of vitamin D we get from food is relatively small, estimated at just 5-10 per cent of the total amount we require.
For this reason, sunshine is the primary source of vitamin D for most people. Vitamin D is produced in the body when our skin cells are exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light that we get from the sun.
And you don’t need to sit in the sun for hours to get the amounts of vitamin D you need.
Rather it depends on how dark your skin is, and the parts of skin on the body that are actually exposed to the sunlight.
The average person will need between 5-10 minutes of sunlight exposure in Summer, versus up to 30 minutes in Winter, while darker skin types may require more. While we often expose our arms, larger parts of our body such as our chest, tummy or back will benefit from sun exposure thanks to their larger surface areas.
The down side of sun awareness in Australia is that many more of us are now at risk of having low vitamin D levels. Those at particular risk include older Australians who do not get out much, office and shift workers, those who cover their body for religious reasons and babies of mothers who have low vitamin D levels themselves.
And while no one is encouraging hours and hours spent in the blazing Summer sun, the reality is we all need some sunlight to hit our skin most days to get the vitamin D we need.
You cannot diagnose your own vitamin D deficiency. Rather you will need a blood test from your GP who will determine what your vitamin D levels are. Low levels of vitamin D can easily be fixed via an oral supplements which is best taken at night, along with some fat such as avocado, nuts or cheese to help support its absorption.
It is important to know that there are two types of vitamin D, Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is produced by the human body in response to sunlight compared to vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) which is not produced in the human body, but is created by exposing certain plant-derived materials to ultraviolet light and is not as well absorbed in the body as Vitamin D3. So make sure you purchase Vitamin D3 if you do need a supplement.
Bumping up your dietary intake of vitamin D by consuming oily fish regularly, seeking out the special vitamin D rich mushrooms in supermarkets which have already been exposed to sunlight, and via fortified milks is another way to top up your intake, especially during Winter.