It’s the wonder vitamin of the season, it’s super-important and many Kiwis do not have enough of it. Vitamin D ‘the sunshine vitamin’ is known as a fat-soluble vitamin, but it’s actually a hormone… and is most widely known for its role in helping to keep bones strong through its ability to activate calcium and phosphorus in the bloodstream.
However, research suggests that vitamin D acts in regulating the activity of more than 200 genes and can also assist with reducing inflammation – a major contributing factor to many chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and arthritis. Vitamin D has also been shown to assist with regulating blood pressure, optimising immune function and assisting with weight management and healthy neurotransmitters, which balance mood.
Scientists have found that vitamin D deficiency – or below optimal levels – is more common than we realise, especially in countries such as New Zealand (far from the equator), and has been linked to depression, autism, insomnia, autoimmune and pain conditions, influenza, respiratory disorders such as asthma, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
So for us Kiwis, vitamin D obviously plays a very important role in our wellbeing, so how can we get more of it?
Vitamin D is available from the foods we eat, although dietary sources can be quite limited. The best food sources include: fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel), eggs, liver, fortified milk and dairy alternative products.
As foods can only provide limited amounts of vitamin D, supplementation can be very beneficial. Experts recommend aiming for 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day for healthy adults and up to 8000 IUs for disease support.
A simple blood test will check your levels. Optimal levels of vitamin D are approximately 100ng/ml for protection against cancer and heart disease.
The best source of vitamin D is sunshine. The body can make its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but only without sunscreen.
Please note: That’s not a directive to go out and work on that tan – we have very strong sunshine here in New Zealand, so it’s important to stay sun-safe, people!
Spending just 20 minutes outside twice a week is enough for the body to synthesise healthy levels of vitamin D. You can now even get sunscreens that don’t block vitamin D. They don’t protect as well, so be sure to reapply regularly and move to the shade if you are getting too much sun.
So, next time, before you put on your 50+ SPF sunscreen before you even leave the house, why not let your skin get some sensible exposure to sunlight first?
Note: If you are currently on medication it is recommended to consult with your doctor prior to supplementing with vitamin D in case of contraindications.