Bring me sunshine | TRAIN

Bring me sunshine

Roughly one in five now have low vitamin D levels and while it’s easy to get a top-up during the sunny months, now is the time when you need alternative sources to help fight winter blues and the associated loss of energy.

It can often feel like the sun is in league with coffee and wine. They’re definitely good for you . . . well, maybe sort of, just not too much . . . or too little because just the right amount could make you live longer . . . . or die a fast death. The whole process can leave you more confused than a chameleon on a box of smarties. Truth be told, between the months of April and September the majority of us get enough vitamin D through sunlight as the body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight hitting the skin when outdoors.

However, we don’t get as much vitamin D between the months of October and March due to the lack of sunlight and our tendency to stay indoors more. This means it’s important for us to eat foods such as oily fish, red meat, and eggs which all contain vitamin D. Alternatively, you can use dietary supplements in order to get enough of the vitamin. In fact, that’s exactly what the government recommends. The department of health states, “Everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement for their bone health in the winter months, between October and March, if they can not get enough by exposure to sunlight”.

This recommendation is based on findings from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in July 2016. However, there has recently been a call for this be reconsidered, in particular the recommendation on supplementing with vitamin D throughout the winter. This is due to 81 separate studies concluding that there was no evidence to justify supplementing with vitamin D for bone health. This new data is published in The Lancet’s Diabetes and Endocrinology Journal and led by professor Mark Bolland who is a long-standing expert on vitamin D. Professor Bolland says the new data shows vitamin D does not prevent fractures, falls or improve bone mineral density, whatever the dose. He goes on to say “On the strength of existing evidence, we believe there is little justification for more trials of vitamin D supplements looking at musculoskeletal outcomes.” But wait that doesn’t mean you don’t need it – you do.

New thoughts

With the evidence showing vitamin D has little impact on bone strength, should we still be supplementing with it? The short answer is, yes, you should to keep your mood levels elevated over the winter months. It’s no coincidence that many people feel good in the summer, and during the winter months many people tend to get the winter blues.

In fact, over 2 million people in the UK alone suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder featuring depressive symptoms which occur during the winter. Good luck finding the motivation to exercise through this.

Several studies have suggested the symptoms of SAD could be caused by a decrease in vitamin D which may affect serotonin levels in the brain. This notion is supported by a 2014 study which found supplementing with vitamin D has similar effects to using anti-depressant medication. Further research into vitamin D and emotional health has shown that people with low levels of the vitamin are 11 times more prone to depression than those with normal levels. Over the next three years more work is being done on the link between vitamin D and mental health. Currently there are approximately 100,000 participants enrolled in randomised placebo-controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation.

It’s possible this research will support and strengthen current data which suggests a lack of vitamin D can cause depression and fatigue. This means it’s wise to supplement with vitamin D to ensure you have the best chance of keeping your mood elevated during the winter months.

Are you low?

These are some of the most common symptoms often associated with low vitamin D

Aching bones

Vitamin D helps regulate calcium and phosphorus which are both essential for strong bones.

Low mood or depression

A 2008 study in Norway found that people with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to be depressed, and supplementing with vitamin D actually improved their overall mood and sense of wellbeing.

Recurring coughs or colds

Vitamin D is vital when it comes to activating your immune defences, and with low vitamin D levels our immune cells are unable to function correctly.

Fatigue

A study in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found vitamin D deficiency was common among people suffering from fatigue and supplementing with this vitamin helped offset this exhaustion.

Best Vitamin D food sources

  • Salmon & fatty fish
  • Beef liver
  • Cod liver oil
  • Ghee
  • Egg yolks
  • Yogurt
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified foods
  • Oysters
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