Vitamin D is essential for many functions, from helping your bones absorb calcium to boosting mood over the winter months. But recent figures show 13 per cent of women and 9 per cent of men in the UK have low vitamin D levels.
We make 90 per cent of our vitamin D from sunshine, but even if you get outside during the winter months the sun is not strong enough for our bodies to produce this vital vit. Although you can find vitamin D in foods such as oily fish, milk and eggs, some experts say we should also be taking a supplement to up our intake.
We’ve got the latest vitamin D facts and research; from boosting bones to helping you stay smiling…
1. It helps build strong bones
Our bodies need vitamin D to extract calcium properly from the food we eat, but a vitamin D deficiency means we cannot absorb enough calcium.
Over time, this can contribute to osteomalacia – a condition where the bones become weak and more likely to fracture. But upping your vitamin D levels helps remineralise bone structures, making them stronger.
Vitamin D could also help prevent osteoporosis. While osteomalacia is caused by poor bone structures being built, osteoporosis is caused by bone breaking down. Some studies have found that vitamin D can also slow down bone loss, warding off osteoporosis and keeping you stronger for longer.
2. It can protect against gum disease
Finnish researchers recently discovered that low vitamin D levels are linked to periodontitis, or gum disease. Their study found those with chronic gum disease also had very low levels of vitamin D in the blood.
A further study in Norway has also found a link between tooth loss and exposure to sunlight – only 11 per cent of those living in the south of the country lost teeth, compared with 65 per cent in the north. If only we could get summer holidays on prescription…
3. It can help keep your muscles strong
Muscle weakness may be another side effect of low vitamin D levels, especially in the elderly.
Numerous studies have found that taking vitamin D supplements significantly improves muscle performance, in turn decreasing the number of injuries suffered from falls. In one particular trial, residents in a nursing home who received vitamin D and calcium supplements suffered 72 per cent fewer falls than those taking a placebo.
4. It may help improve heart health
A recent study – and the largest ever done on the subject – concluded that a vitamin D deficiency is linked to heart disease.
Over 70 per cent of nearly 1500 patients undergoing investigation for narrowing arteries had a vitamin D deficiency, and there was a 32 per cent higher occurrence of coronary artery disease in those patients with the lowest vitamin D levels.
The results were so clear, the team now want to investigate the effects of taking vitamin D on boosting heart health.
5. It can boost brain function
Vitamin D could have benefits for both mind and body; evidence shows there are links between low vitamin D levels and dementia.
Vitamin D can be found in brain tissue and two large studies recently suggested that low vitamin D levels could increase the risk of developing dementia. Researchers now agree that large-scale studies should be carried out to fully investigate the link.
Get more advice on staying well all winter in our dedicated seasonal wellbeing section.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.