Vitamin D was in the headlines earlier this year after the government recommended that everyone should supplement to protect against deficiency. They advised that many of us are at risk for not getting enough and that taking a supplement helps to keep levels of the vitamin topped up, especially in the colder months.
The recommendations are aimed to protect musculoskeletal health but vitamin D is not just important for bone health. Studies are increasingly showing that the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk for many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes autoimmune disease and fertility and pregnancy complications. It’s becoming clear that getting enough vitamin D is very important to health and longevity.
A major study by leading vitamin D expert Dr William Grant, found that increasing your levels of vitamin D would cut premature deaths by 21 percent, and extend your healthy lifespan by over two years.*
Dr Grant estimates that for the average European, blood levels of vitamin D are around 54nmol/L. Upping levels to 100nmol/L would be sufficient to lower mortality from a whole range of conditions. Disturbingly, levels are often found to have dropped below 35nmol/L in winter. This is the time we need it most as its important to the proper functioning of the immune system.
In our clinic we frequently see deficiencies in nutrients and here in the UK low levels of vitamin D are a real problem – but one that is easy (and cheap) to monitor and relatively easy to correct.
- The best dietary sources are fish, eggs, dairy and fortified foods such as some milk or yoghurt. Also, like humans mushrooms can make their own vitamin D if left in the sun. But unlike other nutrients you can’t eat your way out of a deficiency. It is impossible to get enough vitamin D through diet alone.
- Sunlight is really the major source but the sun has to be a certain strength and here in the UK we simply don’t get enough to make adequate vitamin D putting us at risk of deficiency over the winter months. Plus overuse of sunscreens, covering skin with clothing and pollution in cities means you won’t get the UV rays needed to manufacture vitamin D.
- Supplements are the most effective way for people to boost their levels, especially in the winter months. When choosing supplements it may be worth having some guidance from a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist to get the right sort of supplement. We are all individual and have unique nutritional needs and so respond differently to the various forms of the vitamin.
How much do we need?
This is the tricky bit as we are all unique in our ability to make vitamin D. Statistics show that most people are deficient and some critically so without even knowing. The amount we need is the amount that gets us in the right range of 100-110 nmol/L.
Its difficult to guess individual needs given variations in sunlight exposure, skin colour, genetics, diet, lifestyle and underlying health issues. Testing is the only way to know for sure what our vitamin D levels actually are.
Choosing a test
The test we recommend is called a 25(OH)D blood test which tests for vitamin D2 and D3 and is the best assessment of vitamin D status.
You can ask your GP to do the test or you can do a home test under the guidance of a Nutritional Therapist who can order the test for you and will give advice on how to increase levels. Tests generally cost around £30.
The home tests are easy to use and involve pricking your finger to take a small blood sample that is sent to the lab for testing. Once the results are through you are looking to get your level up to around 100 nmol/L to take it to optimum function rather than the baseline of 50 that is the benchmark for preventing deficiency.
Each person responds differently to supplementation so it really is worth retesting after about 4 months to ensure you are on the right track.
Who should test?
The test is really useful for everyone, especially at this time of year. I myself have a genetic variation that means I have a higher need for vitamin D. This isn’t something that you can tell without testing (in my case I have also used nutrigenomic testing to see where I may have genetic variations that require more nutritional support).
We often recommend a test for vitamin D to our clients who present with digestive disturbance, lowered immunity, autoimmunity, skin disorders, infertility and cardiovascular disease.
Please contact us if you’d like to know more about testing and supplements. We also offer nutrigenomic testing at the Eat Drink Live Well Clinic, in conjunction with nutrition consultations; we believe it’s important to interpret genetic test results with someone who can explain them to you in the context of your current health symptoms and/or goals for preventative health.
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