The College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) always have some great health tips to share in our magazine. This autumn, Michelle Sanchez shared some advice on how to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D, even as the sun begins to fade.
Make Your Sunshine Last
CNM explores the importance of Vitamin D
by Michelle Sanchez, Naturopath, Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist
Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – although it’s not strictly a vitamin (it’s a hormone) – as it can be synthesised on the skin when the body is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone and muscle health, the immune system, gut health and blood sugar metabolism.
How to get vitamin D
The body creates vitamin D on the skin when exposed to direct sunlight; the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun stimulates vitamin-D receptor cells in the skin. This triggers a chemical reaction in the body, enabling it to produce vitamin D3.
In the UK and Ireland, people can top up their vitamin D levels during spring and summer from late March / early April until late September.
Vitamin D levels tend to dip during the winter months due to the darker days and less sunlight exposure.
Experts recommend short bursts of unprotected sun exposure (around five to ten minutes) a few times per week for fairer skin types, in order to maintain vitamin D levels. For those with darker skin tones, it can take three to six times longer to produce the same amount of vitamin D3, due to their skin pigmentation.
It is also possible to obtain vitamin D from food sources, although it is difficult to get enough of it from diet alone. There are two types of vitamin D food sources: D2 (ergocalciferol D2) from plant sources, which is found in sun-exposed mushrooms, and D3 (cholecalciferol D3) from animal sources such as cod liver oil, oily fish and egg yolks.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
• Bone pain and bowing of lower limbs due to rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults). This is caused by lack of vitamin D and calcium, which makes bones become soft and weak.
• Osteoporosis – this is when bones become weak and fragile, increasing the risk of breaks and fractures.
• Poor immune function, including allergies and autoimmunity.
• Severe asthma in children – studies have shown that asthmatic children tend to have low serum vitamin D levels.
• Insomnia and sleep issues, as vitamin D is linked to sleep quality and duration.
• Mood issues and depression, as vitamin D is needed for serotonin production (the hormone that regulates mood and feelings of wellbeing).
• Menstrual irregularities and fertility problems – vitamin D helps to modulate hormone levels. A lack of vitamin D can change a woman’s menstrual cycle significantly and impair a man’s semen quality.
Health benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D is commonly known for its key function of maintaining bone health; however, it also performs many other functions in the body.
It is a vital co-factor nutrient for muscle contraction and bone metabolism. Vitamin D aids calcium absorption, keeps calcium and phosphorus levels balanced in the body, and strengthens muscles. Research suggests there is a strong correlation between chronic pain and vitamin D deficiency. Supplementation of vitamin D can reduce inflammation and pain in the body.
Being a powerful immune modulator, Vitamin D supports immune function and can improve the body’s antimicrobial defence system. It also helps regulate immune cells and reduce inflammation, thereby promoting a healthy immune response.
Vitamin D has shown to have anti-cancer properties and the ability to regulate gene cells, enhancing anti-tumour activity of immune cells.
In the gastrointestinal system, vitamin D plays a role in keeping the gut microbiome healthy (by increasing beneficial gut bacteria), protecting the gut barrier and regulating inflammation.
Vitamin D is also involved in blood sugar metabolism; it aids the secretion of insulin (the hormone that helps transport glucose into cells) and increases insulin sensitivity in cells, meaning that Vitamin D is beneficial for individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
How to increase your vitamin D levels naturally
• Go for a walk in the sun.
• Increase your intake of organic vegetables which contain important co-factor nutrients and eat more vitamin D-containing foods, including sun-exposed mushrooms, organic egg yolks and oily fish.
• Cut down on meat, animal proteins (including dairy products) and sugar.
• Include healthy fats in your diet such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and flaxseed oil.
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Try a coffee alternative such as turmeric latte or caffeine-free chicory root coffee.
• Boost your magnesium levels through diet and supplementation. Foods that are high in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, almonds, pumpkin seeds and cashews.
• Support your liver by reducing your toxic load and doing a detox. Drinking warm water with fresh lemon juice first thing in the morning is a great way to cleanse the liver.
• Improve gut health and boost beneficial gut bacteria with probiotics. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, garlic and broccoli are great for the gastrointestinal system.
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