Sharon Ní Chonchúir on the myriad benefits of vitamin D
YOU’RE bound to have heard adverts saying that vitamin D is vital for healthy bones. You’ve probably even seen foods fortified with it on supermarket shelves. But what is so special about this nutrient? And is it important for us all to up our intake by taking a vitamin D supplement?
Here are ten reasons why we should pay more attention to vitamin D:
- 1: It’s the sunshine vitamin. “Our skin makes it from sunshine but that’s where the problems come in,” says Sarah Keogh, a consultant dietician at www.eatwell.ie. “Because we’re so far north, the sun is too weak for us to make any from October to March and in summer, there’s often cloud cover. As a result, up to 80% of the Irish population are deficient in vitamin D.”
- 2: There are dietary sources of vitamin D but eating enough of them is difficult. They include eggs, fish liver oils, and oily fish such as herring, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. “The challenge is that you’d have to eat oily fish six or seven days a week or eat 35 eggs in order to get enough vitamin D,” says Sarah Keogh. “It’s not realistic.”
- 3: Bone health is the number one reason we need vitamin D. Calcium is vital for strong bones and adequate levels of vitamin D are necessary for its absorption in the body. To minimise the chances of developing bone diseases such as rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia, you need sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D.
- 4: Vitamin D plays a role in our immune function. Specifically, T-cells rely on vitamin D to activate them so that they can fight off any harmful pathogens that enter the body. Once those T-cells have been activated, vitamin D then increases the immune response further by limiting inflammation, which is a major obstacle to healing.
- 5: “Studies have also shown that vitamin D plays a part in the fight against numerous cancers and bowel cancer in particular,” says Sarah Keogh.
- 6: Because of its role in our immune system, vitamin D may help with a whole range of autoimmune conditions. Studies on people diagnosed with AIDS found those with the highest levels of vitamin D had a significantly lower risk of death.
- 7: Vitamin D protects against the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Researchers found that women who took supplemental vitamin D had a 40% lower risk of MS than women who did not supplement.
- 8: It’s important for foetal brain development — it’s policy for pregnant women to take a vitamin D supplement and for babies to be given vitamin D up to the age of 12 months.
- 9: It’s needed for life-long brain health too, especially in old age. A French study of 752 women aged over 75 found women with vitamin D deficiency had significantly increased rates of cognitive impairment.
- 10: Even our mental health is affected by vitamin D. Although scientists have yet to establish why, the likelihood of having depression and other mental illnesses is significantly higher in those with low levels of the vitamin.
Sarah Keogh recommends vitamin D supplements to all her clients. “There are so many reasons to take it,” she says. “From children to old people and everyone in between, we could all do with more vitamin D. Five milligrams a day is a good level to start with.”