Many people complain of general aches and pains in the muscles and bones and this is often mistakenly put down to fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, in fact they’re a classic symptom of vitamin D deficiency. I have often been asked which individual vitamin is the most important for all round health maintenance and if a person were to take only one supplement which would be most important? I’d have to answer ‘Vitamin D’ based on current findings.
Unlike most other vitamins, the body can synthesize its own vitamin D when exposed to the sun. However modern lifestyles involving the use of sunscreens and less sun exposure than in the past as well as a relative difficulty in getting this vitamin from the diet are leading to an increase (some would say a pandemic) in vitamin D deficiency. Rickets, for example, a disease associated with lack of the vitamin which causes abnormal bone development in children, is currently on the rise.
Getting enough from your diet is comparatively difficult. Sources include salmon, sardines, egg yolk, shrimps and fortified milk and cereals. Combine this fact with our, perhaps reasonable, unwillingness to expose our bodies to the sun and you can see just why a supplement should be top of the list!
Vitamin D’s primary role is as an aid to calcium absorption. Along with K2 it ensures that dietary calcium is deposited in the skeleton rather than in the arteries so maintaining healthy bones and teeth.
Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system keeping it primed to combat viral and bacterial threats. In one study children given 1,200 units of vitamin D per day over four months reduced their risk of catching flu by 40%.
It also has a supportive role to play in insulin regulation and low levels could lead to diabetes. It supports lung and cardiovascular functions and, because it’s vital for healthy cell growth and cell to cell communication, is thought to influence the expression of genes involved in cancer development.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma severity and swine flu, however more reliable studies are needed before these associations can be proven. New research suggests that taking vitamin D supplements may slow or reverse the progression of low-grade prostate tumors, without the need for surgery or radiation therapy.
The following is a quote from Dr. Michael Holick, one of the first to research the health role of vitamin D and the author of ‘The Vitamin D. Solution’:
“I usually recommend that vitamin D is critically important from birth until death. Just to give you a couple of examples: during pregnancy, we’re now realizing that vitamin D deficiency is a major issue for the developing foetus. Pre-eclampsia, the most serious complication of pregnancy, is associated with vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is critically important for muscle function, which, of course, is important for birthing action. We showed a 400 percent reduced risk of women requiring a C-section if they simply were vitamin D sufficient at the time they gave birth.
We’re now beginning to realize that in-utero vitamin D deficiency is more likely that the young children are going to have asthma and wheezing disorders. We’re also now realizing that children who are vitamin D deficient are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis later in life, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
Studies have shown that if you improve your vitamin D status, it reduces risk of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and a whole host of other deadly cancers by 30 to 50 percent. You’re correct. Cancer is a big deal. You need to realize that vitamin D is playing a very important role in helping to maintain cell growth and to help fight cancer when a cancer cell is developing in your body.”
Lastly, as we come into the darker, vitamin D starved days of winter I’ll mention the research currently being undertaken on the link between vitamin D status and seasonal affective disorder or SAD, colloquially known as ‘winter blues’. Although results are inconclusive some studies have substantiated a link between depression and low vitamin D levels so, along with supplements such as B vitamins, magnesium, saffron and rhodiola I feel there would undoubtedly be a strong case for vitamin D supplementation for those prone to ‘winter blues’.
So, in summing up, I can’t think of any other nutrient that might be more generally lacking in today’s world or, consequently, of any one nutrient which, if generally boosted, could do so much good.
So if you take one supplement, I’d probably vote for vitamin D.