Vitamin D Deficiency
Studies have unfortunately shown that at least one in three Australians are deficient in vitamin D. In addition, 73% of adults have vitamin D levels deemed insufficient for good health. Do you know your vitamin D status? Are you at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Individuals at high risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, which could affect their immune health include:
- Office workers, Shift workers and outdoor workers who cover their skin
- Over weight and obese
- Those with dark skin
- Pregnant or breastfeeding woman
- People who cover their skin for religious reasons
- The elderly
- Individuals with digestive system diseases e.g. Chron’s and Coeliac disease
Vitamin D deficiency may result in increased inflammation, altered bone tissue structure, increased rates of infections and impaired immune system functioning.
Improving Your Vitamin D Status and Bone health with Diet and Lifestyle
- Get out in the sun (safely): Exposure to direct sunlight is necessary for vitamin D production in the skin. In the summer months, you may only require a few minutes of sun exposure on the face, arms and hands to maintain adequate vitamin D levels (dependant on where you live) however, in winter in southern Australia you may need more. Many people will maintain vitamin D levels through incidental sun exposure. Always follow sun safety guidelines to minimise your risk of skin damage and excess exposure.
- Get moving: Including specific types of exercise in your daily routine benefits your bone health. Mild stress on the bones actually stimulates bone formation and strengthening, to achieve this you will need to include regular weight bearing or resistance exercise. A minimum of 30 minutes exercise daily is recommended.
- Stop smoking: Not only bad for your general health, smoking is associated with an increased risk of fractures. This is in part due to reduced bone mineral density, body weight and oestrogen levels occurring in smokers.
- Eat vitamin D rich foods: The best sources include oily fish such as mackerel. Salmon, herring, sardines, tuna and cod. You can also get some vitamin D from butter and eggs, as well as foods that have been fortified with vitamin D.
- Eat lots of alkaline vegetables: Good bone health has been associated with an increased intake of alkaline vegetables, fruits and olive oil as seen in the Mediterranean diet.
- Avoid foods that cause calcium loss: Reduce your intake of salt, soft drinks and excessive animal protein consumption. All of these foods increases the excretion of calcium from the body or bind to calcium reducing its ability to be incorporated into bones.
You Need Vitamin D for Bone Health at Every Age
Our bone development begins in the womb and continues all through our lives. Therefore it is essential to optimise bone development during pregnancy, early childhood and teenage years to give your bones the best start they can get. Our bone mass peaks during our late teens and early twenties, normal bone loss occurs as part of the ageing process after the age of 35. As we age, bone growth is outweighed by increased bone losses, reducing bone density and strength.
This highlights the importance of maintaining optimal vitamin D levels throughout our lifetime to support healthy bone development and maintenance, and to minimise bone loss. Vitamin D needs to be complemented by ensuring adequate calcium intake, trace minerals and regular weight bearing exercise.
Vitamin D Supports Your Baby’s Bone Development
Your bone development starts very early on in life, in fact around week ten of pregnancy the bones begin to form. In addition to the maternal intake of calcium and trace minerals, vitamin D is crucial during pregnancy for the optimum skeletal development of your baby.
Research has found that children born to mothers with low serum vitamin D levels in the third trimester of pregnancy had reduced bone mineral content and bone density.
Vitamin D and Optimising Bone Density During Childhood and Teenage Years
Vitamin D deficiency during infancy, early childhood as well as during pregnancy can result in the development of rickets, a disease that is on the increase in Australia. The signs and symptoms of rickets include reduced bone mineralisation, bone mineralisation, bone deformities, impaired growth, increased risk of bone fractures and various biochemical disruptions. The primary treatment for childhood rickets is vitamin D supplementation, however prevention by optimising vitamin D status is best.
Many teenagers spend numerous hours indoors playing iPad games and on the internet, reducing their production of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. In addition to good calcium intake and regular exercise, it is of great importance to support healthy vitamin D status during teenage years.
Why Do You Need Vitamin D for healthy Bones?
In addition to calcium, vitamin D is a nutrient critical for the health of our skeletal system. The active form of vitamin D increases gastrointestinal absorption of calcium and phosphorus to then be incorporated into bones. Vitamin D is also important for the regulation of the cells involved in bone maintenance.
Vitamin D Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis
When our bone losses outweigh bone deposition the end result is reduced bone mineral density and increased bone fragility, this is osteoporosis. These fragile bones are at significantly increased risk of fractures. Osteoporosis can also cause postural deformities, as well as significant pain, loss of mobility and reduced quality of life associated with these fractures and bone deformities.
Osteoporosis commonly affects those aged over 55 and more women than men are affected. Vitamin D, calcium and regular weight bearing exercise are essential for maintaining healthy bones well into older age. Healthy bones significantly improve your quality of life.
Vitamin D and Autoimmune Diseases
A variety of autoimmune conditions are associated with vitamin D deficiency and risks the development of autoimmune disease from the very start of life.
Autoimmune diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus and inflammatory bowel disease. These autoimmune conditions may benefit from optimising vitamin D levels through supplementation.
Vitamin D and Allergic Conditions
It seems vitamin D has a role to play in the management and prevention of allergic diseases too. Research shows that maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy increases the likelihood of their infants developing a variety of allergic diseases including atopic eczema and asthma.
Children and teenagers with vitamin D deficiency have far greater allergic sensitisation to a variety of allergens compared to those with vitamin D levels considered sufficient.
Vitamin D and Infection
We tend to get sick more often during the colder months, and this correlates with the time when our vitamin D levels decline. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of respiratory infections such as influenza. Vitamin D also enhances the immune system response to infection and has a direct anti-infective activity. This makes vitamin D an important winter immune health prescription.
Vitamin D Enhances Female Fertility
Around one in five couples will have problems conceiving. Vitamin D is involved in steroid hormone production which includes female hormones progesterone and oestrogens.
Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to be vitamin D deficient than women without the condition. Vitamin D supplementation may improve the fertility of women with PCOS and has been shown to restore ovulatory menstrual cycles, increase pregnancy rate as well as improve glucose metabolism.
In women undergoing IVF treatment higher levels of vitamin D are associated with improved ovarian stimulation responses and increased rate of pregnancy. Any women considering falling pregnant should therefore have her vitamin D status evaluated and appropriately treated by their healthcare practitioner to optimise their reproductive health as part of their preconception health care.
Vitamin D – A Key Nutrient for Pregnancy Health
As vitamin D affects calcium metabolism it has the ability to affect blood pressure. Women with severe vitamin D deficiency have a five times greater risk of developing the serious condition, pre-eclampsia. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with the development of gestational diabetes, which can impact maternal and foetal health.
Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can also affect the health of your baby. Deficiency of vitamin D can reduce the birth weight, reduce infant calcium levels, cause seizures, alter heart function and result in abnormal bine development.
Optimal vitamin D Status during pregnancy has a significant impact on both maternal and foetal health outcomes
Vitamin D Supports Healthy Male Fertility
Men with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have poor sperm motility and abnormal morphology than men with healthy vitamin D levels. The sperm have vitamin D receptors which are linked to sperm survival and the ability to bind to and fertilise the female egg. Supplementation of vitamin D has also been shown to increase testosterone levels, which promotes healthy male libido and reproductive health.
For men considering starting a family, evaluation of your vitamin D status and appropriate supplementation should be undertaken with your healthcare practitioner as part of your preconception health care.