It was the first time she had ever broken a bone and when she saw her doctor he suggested she was deficient in Vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin vital for bone health.
She had been avoiding dairy as she was trying to lose weight after the birth of her third child but, on medical advice, she began to drink milk fortified with vitamin D.
A few months later, the vitamin cropped up again.
This time, a dentist warned her that her eldest son Oscar (eight) needed to increase his intake of calcium and vitamin D as his teeth were in very poor condition.
While her son’s weak tooth enamel was probably not all due to diet, Máire says she now makes sure the whole family gets enough Vitamin D in their diet.
“There is not enough awareness of the need for vitamin D,” she tells Feelgood.
“People think that they will get all the nutrients and vitamins they need from a healthy diet, but that is not the case with vitamin D.”
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because ultra-violet sunrays are used to make it in our skin.
There are few dietary sources – salmon, mackerel, herring, cod liver oil, sun-exposed mushrooms – but the vitamin is vital for bone health, normal muscle function and a healthy immune system.
Given Ireland’s lack of sun, it’s hardly surprising to hear that vitamin D deficiency is a big problem here.
But it’s not just an Irish problem, says Dr Michael F Holick, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University and an authority on vitamin D.
“It’s a worldwide problem. It’s estimated that even 40% of Australians are vitamin D-deficient because they avoid the sun.”
Though, he adds, it’s not generally appreciated that when there is sun, you can’t make vitamin D before 10am or after 3pm.
At Ireland’s latitude, the body can’t make the vitamin at all from October 1 to April 1 due to the angle of the sun during those months.
The odds are really stacked against Irish people, Prof Holick said during a visit to Ireland on the invitation of Avonmore Super Milk which is fortified with vitamin D.
He said he was anxious to promote the importance of vitamin D and calcium in pregnancy and to highlight how it can help prevent many illnesses from birth to death.
“Pre-eclampsia, the most serious condition in pregnancy, is associated with vitamin D deficiency,” he said, adding that women who took the vitamin were shown to have a marked decrease in the need for a Cesarean section.
He went on to explain that children born to vitamin D-deficient women were more at risk of developing asthma and dental decay.
And if children don’t continue to get the recommended levels, they are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
For adults, there is also a long list of conditions associated with vitamin D deficiency. According to the Irish Osteoporosis Society, an estimated 300,000 Irish people suffer from osteoporosis.
Society founder Prof Moira O’Brien said: “I see patients as young as five coming to my clinic. Children nowadays are more at risk than previous generations due to low intake of vitamin D and poor lifestyle choices.”
So what should we do?
“People should be giving serious consideration to improving their vitamin D status by drinking fortified milk or taking a supplement,” Prof Holick said.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 5 micrograms but Prof Holick personally takes 100mg, by drinking three glasses of fortified milk as well as taking a supplement.
He says it’s costly to test the body’s vitamin D levels but it is safe to increase your intake.
“You would need to take tens of thousands of mircograms for a year to be toxic,” he says.
He also advises people to get “helpful” amounts of sun. The professor has developed a free app (dminder.info) that tells people when they can safely make vitamin D in the sun.
Fancy a healthy treat this Halloween? Try this pumpkin-seed smoothie from That Protein, the Irish vegan plant-nutrition company.
- You’ll need two scoops of That Protein’s I Heart Pumpkin and Chia Seed super protein;
- one banana, chopped; one small mango, peeled, stoned and chopped;
- 300ml nut milk of choice (add more or less for desired consistency); ice cubes (optional).
- Optional topping: chia seeds, sea buckthorn powder.
Put the ingredients into a blender, milk first.
Blend until smooth, garnish and drink immediately.
For more recipes, see www.thatprotein.com
SCIENTISTS in Cork have, for the first time, gained new insights into the health properties of kefir, a grain that is added to milk to make a fermented health drink.
Using cutting-edge DNAsequencing technologies, researchers at the APC Microbiome Institute conducted in-depth studies on the grain.
The analysis gave valuable insights into the genes considered important for probiotics and may explain the longheld view that kefir has health-promoting properties.
Dr Paul Cotter, leader of the research, said:
“Our results could be used to optimise the fermentation processes, flavours and health-related attributes of kefir and other fermented foods and bring them to a wider consumer audience.”