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Avoid winter blues, colds and flu with vitamin D

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Vitamin D is one of the essential fat-soluble vitamins that our body needs to function optimally. Vitamin D supports bone function by enhancing the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Other important roles of vitamin D include regulating our insulin production for optimum blood sugar balance, enhancing immunity, supporting cardiovascular health and regulating our mood.

Vitamin D deficiency

A vitamin D deficiency is common, particularly within the UK population, mostly due to the lack of sunlight exposure. Other factors that contribute towards low vitamin D levels include old age, pregnancy and breastfeeding, dark or covered skin, sunscreen use, and use of medications such as metformin.

As we are now approaching winter, it is important to ensure our vitamin D levels are within the optimum levels. Vitamin D can enhance our immune response against infections which are prevalent during the winter months; infections include influenza and viral respiratory tract infections. When we feel ‘blue’ or down during winter, it is usually due to the lack of sunlight, this condition is known as Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD). Supplementing with vitamin D will be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in those suffering with SAD. Furthermore, studies suggest that vitamin D may enhance serotonin production hence its mood-enhancing effects.

Where can I get vitamin D from?

Due to the Western diet and an indoor lifestyle, majority of the population find it difficult to maintain adequate vitamin D levels in the body. Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, eggs and raw milk. However, because of the increase of fish and poultry farming, vitamin D levels in these sources are lower than expected; farmed salmon approximately contains 75% less vitamin D in comparison to wild salmon. Therefore, a vitamin D supplement is essentially the best way of ensuring that we get our daily dose of vitamin D. The recommended amount of vitamin D for adults over 65 years, pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and children is 10mg (400 IU). Everyone in the UK should be supplementing with vitamin D all year round; during the summer, those who cover up for religious reasons or individuals with an indoor, sedentary lifestyle e.g. working in an office do not get enough sunlight. It is equally important to take vitamin D supplements during autumn and winter when sunlight exposure is at a low. As vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so individuals with compromised digestion or difficulty digesting fat may not be able to absorb and metabolise vitamin D well. It is important for these individuals to select an emulsified (pre-digested) version of vitamin D to ensure optimal absorption.

How do I know if I have enough vitmain D?

A vitamin D test can be requested from your GP or you can get it done privately (at home using the pin-prick test). If there is a deficiency, individuals will require significantly larger doses of vitamin D and will need to be retested every three months. Obese individuals, those with malabsorption syndromes, and medication (glucocorticoids, anti-seizures) may require higher doses of vitamin D.

Don’t get bunged down with a cold or flu this winter, speak to one of our Nutritionists or Functional Medicine Practitioners to find out what foods you can eat more of and what lifestyle changes you can make to enhance your vitamin D intake to boost your immune system and mood this season!

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