10 Great Reasons to Supplement with Vitamin D This Winter
Now that the summer is over and the darker half of the year is starting, it is important to consider the health benefits of vitamin D.
Vitamin D does not occur in adequate levels, naturally, in food. Your body does produce good amounts from the sunlight but this is when you allow yourself to be exposed!
That's why it's vital to ensure you maintain a healthy intake when sunlight is in short supply.
10 Great Reasons to Use Vitamin D During Winter
You should also ensure that you choose a good quality supplement if you know you are prone to having low levels of vitamin D. As many as 9 out of 10 Brits may be deficient in Vitamin D, so it's wise to start building up levels from autumn rather than waiting till winter. Without further ado, here's ten great reasons to supplement with vitamin D during winter.
- To Prevent Rickets
One of the chief health benefits of vitamin D is the healthy development and maintenance of bones. When children struggle with a lack of vitamin D, it often results in a condition called rickets.
Kids with rickets have soft, deformed bones that buckle and bow when they put weight on them, such as when they walk or lift heavy objects.
These kids are also small and underdeveloped, partly due to the vitamin D deficiency, and partly due to their inability to move around.
Luckily, most kids enjoy spending time outdoors in the sun, but they will benefit from supplementation during the cold, dark half of the year too.
Incidentally, if you think rickets is a thing of the past, guess again. Research published in 2014 showed that hospital admissions for rickets in Great Britain between 2007-2011 was the highest it had been in 50 years.
- To Prevent Osteomalacia
Osteomalacia is the adult version of rickets with many of the same symptoms.
The bones of adults with a vitamin D deficiency become soft and weak, with the result that they cannot put weight on them. Their spines and legs are normally bent, they are at risk of bone fractures, and they are in permanent pain.
It is worth remembering that your bones do not develop during childhood alone: like other body tissue, as your bone cells age, your body must replace them with fresh bone cells. This is an ongoing process throughout your life.
- To Reduce Risk of Bone Fractures
Even those adults who fall short of osteomalacia but who are nevertheless vitamin D deficient can struggle with soft or brittle bones.
Several studies show the elderly to be at increased risk of bone fractures. This risk increases in seniors with a particularly strong risk of low density, such as postmenopausal women.
- Infectious Diseases
A lack of vitamin D increases the likelihood of catching viral and bacterial infectious diseases like flu and tuberculosis.
When Japanese researchers gave a group of children a vitamin D supplement to explore whether it could combat seasonal flu, they found that only 10.8 per cent of the supplemented children caught the flu while 18.6 per cent of the non-supplemented kids fell ill with it.
In 2007, Oxford researchers published an article in the International Journal of Epidemiology that surveyed previous studies on the relationship between vitamin D and tuberculosis; they concluded that a lack of vitamin D most probably caused TB.
- To Improve Nutrient Absorption
Vitamin D is vital for your body's absorption of many minerals, including calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. This is partly why a lack of it causes such destruction of bones.
If your body cannot absorb enough calcium and magnesium from your food because you lack vitamin D to help with the absorption, it will take them from your bones; this leaves bones with insufficient amounts of the primary bone-supporting minerals.
- To Reduce Mortality
A 2011 review of the scientific literature concluded that the supplementation of vitamin D reduced the likelihood of death in the elderly by six per cent.
At this stage the mechanism by which vitamin D offers protection is still a mystery, but it seems as if the nutrient boosts the immune system in several unique ways.
- To Prevent Asthma
Some studies have demonstrated that vitamin D insufficiency is much higher among asthmatics than in the general, non-asthmatic population.
Moreover, in a study on Costa Rican children, researchers found that the severity of asthma was the highest in kids with the lowest vitamin D levels.
This does not mean that vitamin D is a good treatment alone for asthma, of course; in fact, most scientific investigations seem to show that it is not. However, maintaining good vitamin D levels may help to prevent asthma or moderate the symptoms when it occurs.
- To Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease
Many scientists have found that people with cardiovascular disease have low levels of vitamin D, but the use of vitamin D once CVD is already present seems to be effective in only the most severe cases of heart failure.
Supplementation may nonetheless be useful as a preventative measure, especially if your lifestyle or age puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease.
- To Reduce Diabetes
People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have low levels of vitamin D.
In one Harvard-led literature review of 21 previous studies, investigators found that those with type 2 diabetes are substantially more likely to lack vitamin D, and that the risk of developing diabetes decreases with the increase in vitamin D.
This is useful information for those who cannot always avoid eating packaged foods with hydrogenated oils or other chemicals linked to diabetes.
- To Counter Inflammation
Many of the most common modern illnesses are caused, or partly caused, by chronic inflammation. These include most infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. This might be why vitamin D levels are so low in people with these conditions.
In a review of the scientific literature published in a 2014 edition of Dermato-Endocrinology, researchers found that vitamin D supplementation on people who already have these inflammatory conditions has mixed effects.
It certainly did not improve the conditions of those with type 2 diabetes and stable cardiovascular disease, but it did improve the condition of those with acute infantile congestive heart failure, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, active tuberculosis, and evolving myocardial infarction.
With the exception of the latter list, it is, therefore, better to think of vitamin D supplementation as a preventative measure, rather than as a lone treatment for already existing conditions.
Who Needs Vitamin D Supplementation the Most?
Several studies have discovered that darker skinned people are more likely to experience vitamin D insufficiency than their white skinned peers are. Scientists first thought that their densely pigmented skins absorbed too little sunlight from which to produce vitamin D, but nowadays they contend that the problem is caused by other genetic factors unrelated to skin pigmentation. Whatever the cause, those with darker skins require more supplementation.
Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers need vitamin D to prevent pre-eclampsia and to ensure that their infants develop to a proper size.
The NHS recommends that children between six months and five years should receive a supplement, as the consequences of vitamin D insufficiency at that age are severe.
The NHS also recommends that the elderly take supplements to prevent bone fractures.
Athletes who are at high risk of bone fractures must ensure they consume enough vitamin D to protect themselves.
Those who spend little time in direct sunlight are almost certainly short of vitamin D. A few years ago researchers shocked the medical world when they announced that a third of Australians had insufficient levels of vitamin D. Located in the southern hemisphere, Australia has good sunlight for the full 12 months of the year, but this is clearly not enough for many of its citizens who simply spend too much time indoors.
Those who eat primarily natural plant-based food may lack vitamin D, as bread, cereal and milk are the foods that are most commonly fortified with it. However, even the fortified vitamin D comes into question with, it often being the D2 type rather than the preferable D3. You can read more about the differences between vitamin D2 and D3 here.
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