Despite living in a sunny Singapore, many of us struggle with a vitamin D deficiency. Particularly prevalent in European and Asian communities, research shows that one billion people around the world are vitamin D deficient, a situation that has ramifications for our health (more on which later).
It is well known that sun exposure is the easiest way to stimulate the production of vitamin D in the body, which is why those living in colder climes are particularly vulnerable to deficiency in the dark, winter months. “The NHS recommends supplementing with vitamin D3 from autumn and throughout the winter months for this reason,” explains Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, naturopath and founder of Artah.
For those of us who are sun-adverse, it’s important to note that without sunlight, there are other ways of ensuring we get our vitamin D fix. “Most foods are poor sources of vitamin D, but the ones that do offer it include salmon, swordfish, tuna, full fat dairy that’s fortified with vitamin D, sardines, beef liver, cod liver oil and egg yolks,” says Stephenson, who emphasises that eating such foods won’t deliver adequate levels, but will help. Those who eat a vegan diet, she warns, are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
When it comes to supplementing, which is key to prevent deficiency, Stephenson says that recommendations vary by country. “In the US and Canada, the RDA is 600IU per day for adults and 800IU per day for individuals over 70, while in places such as the UK the RDA is 400IU,” she says. “The bare minimum is 400IU—in my experience, this is too low to correct an insufficient or deficient status.”
It’s also worth noting that supplements are available in D2 and D3 form, but you should always opt for D3. “In addition, look for supplements that are paired with vitamin K2, like our Essential D3/K2, because they work together to optimise calcium metabolism. Without K2, calcium can accumulate and deposit in arteries, rather than being transported to our bones,” she adds.
Why is vitamin D good for the body?
Optimal vitamin D levels are essential for systemic health. “It regulates cellular growth and gene expression (essential for cancer prevention), improves cell differentiation and is involved in immunity, fertility, muscle strength, hormone balance, sexual health, energy, mood and more,” says Stephenson. Put simply, it’s essential for all-round health and wellbeing.
What happens if you’re vitamin D deficient?
Vitamin D deficiency impacts both physical and mental health. We all know about osteoporosis, but low levels are also linked to poor immunity, depression and back pain—to name three problems. “It’s linked to poor outcomes across the board —from autoimmune conditions, COVID-19 and cancer to general immunity, hormone health and mood disorders,” says Stephenson. Hypertension, diabetes, fibromyalgia and neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, are all also linked to vitamin D deficiency.
What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
The only way to truly know if you are vitamin D deficient is to have a blood test via your GP. However, there are also signs and symptoms you can look out for.
Bone and muscle pain
Some studies have shown a correlation between frequent muscle pain and weakness, and vitamin D deficiency. Meanwhile bone and joint pain is common, as vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium—without it, increased fragility and pain may occur.
You’re often sick
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a weak immune system. If you’re often ill and don’t know why, consider getting a blood test.
Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
Scientific research shows that vitamin D may play a key role in balancing our mood and minimising the risk of depression. Low levels can contribute to seasonal affective disorder and are often associated with feelings of overwhelm, sadness, anxiety, forgetfulness and sadness.
This article first appeared in British Vogue.