Did you see in the headlines recently about the health concerns surrounding Vitamin D in the UK? Public Health England has revised its guidelines to recommend that most people take a Vitamin D supplement, after discovering most of us aren’t getting enough Vitamin D. We asked Chris Smith, co-founder of Vegetology and resident science geek, to give us the lowdown on Vitamin D. Why is it so important, why are we not getting enough and what can we do to change that?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, which is also often called the sunshine Vitamin, is essential for so many things. In fact, it's linked to almost every bodily function in some way or another. It's essential for healthy bones and teeth as it helps to absorb and retain calcium. It's needed for muscle function, keeping the heart and cardiovascular system healthy, for brain development and the immune system. In fact, every week we're seeing new research released about the benefits of this Vitamin, from helping with asthma to treating Alzheimer’s Disease.
How Do We Get Vitamin D?
We can get Vitamin D from food, but it's either at incredibly low levels, or that food has been fortified. Red meats and oily fish such as tuna or mackerel, usually contain Vitamin D. Quite a few cereals do, fruit juices, cheese – all that have been fortified. So food is an option for a source of Vitamin D, but it's often very low.
So how do we get enough Vitamin D? The most famous and well known way of getting Vitamin D is from the sun. (Unless you live in the UK.)
How We Get Vitamin D From The Sun
Chris Smith explains the science behind this reaction:
“What happens when we get UV exposure is there's a reaction in the skin which produces Vitamin D. That is how it's designed to happen. However, we don't get very much of the sun particularly here in the UK. From September to March, it's at really low levels. In fact they say if you live north of 52 degrees latitude, which for anyone listening in the UK, is about North of Milton Keynes, you don't get enough sunlight throughout the whole year on average to produce enough Vitamin D.”
So we all need to move to a hot country? Not exactly. Countries like India, where people cover up because of the heat or for religious and cultural reasons, also have a problem with Vitamin D deficiency across the population. Countries like Australia where people use high factor sunscreen also have issues with Vitamin D deficiency.
So across the globe we are seeing rising levels of Vitamin D deficiency. So why is that a problem and how can you tell if you might not be getting enough Vitamin D?
What Happens If We Don’t Get Enough Vitamin D
Not getting enough Vitamin D over a prolonged period starts to affect the body. Vitamin D is great for bones and teeth so a lack of the vitamin can cause weak bones, brittle bones, achiness, creaky joints, muscular weaknesses and we're even seeing the return of rickets. There's been a case of rickets in the UK in the 21st century.
Away from bones and joints, a lack of Vitamin D can impact cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a wide range of infections. Depression, seasonal affective disorder and low mood can all come from a lack of Vitamin D. A common complaint from people low in Vitamin D is a feeling of exhaustion all the time.
How Do Vitamin D Supplements work… in fact, do they even work?
We asked Chris Smith about how a Vitamin D supplement can work in the body, when the body is used to making Vitamin D through a chemical reaction with the sun’s UVB rays.
“There are two types of Vitamin D supplement. You will hear about Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3. It's really important to understand the difference. Vitamin D3 is a form of Vitamin D that is produced by the skin when you are exposed to the sun. That is the correct form. That is the form that is ready for the body to take in, metabolise and utilise. It’s also called calciferol. There's also Vitamin D2 which is called ergocalciferol. That is a Vitamin D in analogue. It's produced in nature, so often promoted use for by vegetarians and vegans, it comes from things like mushrooms, but the metabolic root for Vitamin D2, how it becomes useful for the body is a lot more complicated. It needs to go through conversions before it can even be considered suitable for the body. Vitamin D3 is widely accepted as the more effective form of Vitamin D.”
Vitamin D and a Plant-Based Diet
So apart from the reaction with sunlight, Vitamin D3, the kind of Vitamin D we need to be looking for in a supplement traditionally is found in lanolin, the grease in sheep's wool and fish oil. So when it comes to following a plant based diet, traditionally supplements have contained Vitamin D2. But as we’ve already found out from scientist Chris, Vitamin D2 isn’t as effective as Vitamin D3. So what’s the answer? Chris explains;
“Thankfully, now, after a lot of research, there's a plant source of Vitamin D3 available. It comes from a lichen. A lichen is a moss-like substance. Now, it is possible to get Vitamin D3 that ticks every box for vegetarians and vegans. In short, Vitamin D2 is redundant. It won't disappear because it's been on the market forever, but I cannot see any reason for anybody to take Vitamin D2.”
Vitashine is 100% plant-sourced Vitamin D3, approved and certified by the Vegan society and Vegetarian society. Vitashine products are available in a couple of different forms. We offer two tablet products at different doses, but we also will offer an oral spray dose. The tables are great for those that want a high dose, the dose is written on the front. The spray can be used by the whole family, with different doses depending on age.
How Much Vitamin D do I need to take?
Vitamin D testing from your doctor will either be free or at a very low cost, to see whether you are deficient and if so, by how much. Typically if you are acutely deficient, they will put you on a very high dose for a short time, to get the Vitamin D stocks up, then bring you down to a more managing dose. So if you want to know if you're Vitamin D deficient, go see a doctor, they will do a test and they'll tell you what dosage to take.
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