Vitamin D – known as the sunshine vitamin – is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood. It helps build strong bones and muscle function, and overall good health.
The best source of vitamin D comes from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. So if you spend a lot of your time cooped up inside, then you might be missing out on the sunshine, and vitamin D, that your body needs to perform at its best.
And if that’s the case, you’re not alone. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates about four million Australians are deficient in vitamin D.
Why we need vitamin D and what happens if we get enough
Vitamin D is a very important vitamin. It’s formed mainly in the skin and then used by every cell in the body.
It plays an important role in helping to absorb calcium from food. Calcium is vital in building strong bones and teeth, and it’s also important for the nervous system. Vitamin D is also necessary for the immune system to work properly.
People who are deficient in vitamin D are at risk of having softer bones that are prone to breaking, muscle weakness and soreness.
Vitamin D deficiency is also a risk factor for pregnancy related conditions including pre-eclampsia, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and pre-term labour.
In children, it can cause growth deformities associated with weak or soft bones and skeletal deformities. Low calcium levels in the blood can also lead to seizures.
So Vitamin D is important, and we all need to make sure we get enough of it in order for our bodies to feel good and work well.#VitaminD is vital to building strong bones and teeth Click To Tweet
Who’s at greatest risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Some people are at greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency than others. These include:
- People with naturally very dark skin – the pigment in dark skin doesn’t absorb as much UV radiation
- People who avoid the sun (perhaps due to previous skin cancers, immune suppression or sensitive skin)
- People who have limited sun exposure or spend a lot of time indoors, such as nightshift workers, or people who are housebound or institutionalised
- People who wear clothing that covers most of their body for cultural or religious reasons
- People who are obese
- People who have a disability or a disease that affects vitamin D metabolism, (such as end-stage liver disease, renal disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease)
- People who take medication that affects vitamin D metabolism
- Breast-fed babies of vitamin D deficient mothers (formula milk is fortified with vitamin D).
If you think you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, talk to your GP. They might recommend taking a vitamin D supplement.Find out if you’re at risk of #VitaminD deficiency Click To Tweet
How do I know if I have low vitamin D?
A blood test is the only way to accurately measure your level of vitamin D, and to know if you have a deficiency.
Given the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in Australia, our team at MyHealthTest is currently working with researchers from the University of Canberra to develop a new fingerprick blood test to monitor vitamin D levels from home.
This new test will make monitoring of vitamin D levels easier and more convenient for those at risk. The new test is expected to be available in early 2021.A new fingerprick blood test is in development to test for #VitaminD deficiency from home Click To Tweet
Easy ways to boost your levels of vitamin D
It’s important to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D. Here are some easy ways to give yours a boost:
1. Talk to your GP about a vitamin D supplement
If you think you might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, then talk to your GP. They may recommend a supplement.
2. Spend time outdoors (based on what’s sun smart for your location) and increase daily exercise
How much UV exposure a person needs depends on the time of the year, UV levels, your skin type and your existing vitamin D levels.
The good news is, only a small amount of sun exposure is required to produce adequate levels of vitamin D: a few minutes a day in summer, and 2 – 3 hours a week in winter if you live in Sydney or further south. Find your recommended sun exposure based on your location here.
Adjust the level of exposure to what is safe and sun smart based on the time of year, your skin type and your local area. Overexposure to UV is never recommended, even for people who have vitamin D deficiency.
Daily exercise can also assist with the body’s production of vitamin D.
3. Eat a diet rich in vitamin D
There are small amounts of vitamin D in some foods such as fish and shellfish (oily fish are best), eggs and UV-irradiated mushrooms, but it is difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone. Margarine and some types of milk have added vitamin D.
Most people only get five to 10 per cent of their vitamin D from food.
4. Be a seeker of both sunshine and joy
In your pursuit of Vitamin D, introduce some simple ways to bring more sunshine – and joy – into your working day. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Park a bit further away and stroll the extra few minutes to the office in the sunshine (it boosts your serotonin too).
- When you grab that barista-made coffee, loiter outside the café for a few minutes if the sun is out.
- Colleague needs a work chat? Roll up your sleeves and take it outside.
We’re making blood testing easy
We’re excited at MyHealthTest about the potential of a new easy home blood test for vitamin D deficiency, and the work underway with our research partners at the University of Canberra.
We’ll keep you updated on progress as we move closer to launch, which is expected to be in early 2021.
In the meantime, if you have any concerns about your vitamin D levels, or need any further information, please don’t hesitate to discuss these with your GP.