S is for Sunlight; D is for Deficient

You need vitamin D. What role should vitamins & supplements play?

Your car in the nude

Picture your car (or the car you wish you had).

Now picture it naked.

What I mean is this: imagine it with all but the essential skeleton removed – no more panels, no more windscreen, no more nice faux-leather seats, no more little foot mats the dealer threw in free of charge.

All you can see is the skeleton of the car – what you would see if you had X-ray vision, or if you saw the bare-boned blueprints of the vehicle.

What would you want to see? Hopefully something sturdy, something solid, something that you know is going to take you the distance and not warp, buckle, or disintegrate along the way. That’s the last thing that you want when cruising along the highway.

Rust? Corrosion? No thank you. These are the last things you want to see.

Now, here’s the thing: you don’t need to see the essential frame of your car to know that it’s important.

It’s the same with your skeleton. You don’t need to peel everything back (gross) to have a quick look to know that you want it to be sturdy, healthy, and in full working order.

So, what do you need to make sure your skeleton gets you to where you need to go?

Answer: calcium. (To be honest, there’s more to it than that … but calcium is key.)

And what do you need to properly absorb calcium?

Vitamin D.

To put it in technical terms, ‘the principal function of vitamin D in calcium homeostasis is to increase calcium absorption from the intestine.’[1]

To put it a little more directly, vitamin D helps your gut to get the calcium it needs to maintain balance in your body – especially in your muscles and your bone.

Sounds good, right? Three cheers for vitamin D.

Now for the bad news.

Vitamin D deficiency is a huge problem in Australia

We know vitamin D is important.

We (probably) know we receive most of our vitamin D from the sun.

We know vitamins & supplements might be appropriate for us.

And yet we don’t get enough.

Generally, if your vitamin D levels are lower than 50 nmol/L, you’re in the ‘suboptimal’ category.[2] Nearly a quarter of Australians on average fit in the suboptimal category. In winter, this skyrockets; 36% of Australians don’t get enough vitamin D.

And here’s even worse news if you live in the southeast of Australia: you’re even more likely to lack the vitamin D levels you need.[3] This makes sense when you remember that the sun is the source of most of our vitamin D.

Some people are particularly at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. You might fit into one of these categories if you:

  • Spend a lot of time indoors for health reasons, work reasons, or out of personal preference
  • Cover your body out of a consideration of your cultural or religious beliefs, or for personal reasons
  • Have underlying medical conditions that may make it more difficult to absorb vitamin D
  • Take certain medicines that make it more difficult to reach the recommended levels of vitamin D
  • Struggle with obesity.[4]

If you are in a risk category, please speak to your doctor about the best ways to identify and manage vitamin D deficiency. Your doctor might discuss vitamins & supplements that may be an appropriate choice for your lifestyle and medical needs.

There’s another obvious reason why you may not be getting enough vitamin D: the pandemic. Has the pandemic somehow magically shut down our ability to absorb vitamins & supplements? Absolutely not! But in some ways, the pandemic has been a sort of forced hibernation: many Australians – even those who have not experienced extensive lockdowns – have spent more time indoors and less time out in the sun.

The Dangers of Vitamin D deficiency

Nobody has ever told me that they’d like a weak skeleton. Because of this, people have an innate sense of why we need vitamin D. On the opposite side of the same coin, they know why a deficiency in vitamin D is bad. Bad bones = bad news.

According to Health Direct, ‘people with very low levels of vitamin D (moderate to severe deficiency) are the most at risk of developing health problems.’[5] These health problems include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Rickets in younger Australians
  •  Cognitive impairment in older Australians
  • Cancer

A vitamin D deficiency also means that you’re missing out on some of the protective power of vitamin D. Yikes.

How do I boost my vitamin D intake?

The main character in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Klara and the Sun is a little robot. The robot gets given the task of befriending a lonely and unwell child. This beautiful novel reflects on what it means to be human. Ishiguro’s point is simple and profound: love. Love is what makes us truly human.

But there’s a small detail that I find fascinating: Klara – the robot – gains her energy from the sun. Each morning she soaks it up, recharging and preparing herself for the day ahead. To live well and love well, she needs the right amount of sunlight.

It’s not so different with us: around 90% of our vitamin D intake comes from the sun.

You may consider boosting your sun exposure to increase your intake of vitamin D. This can be relatively easy:

  • In summer months, a few minutes outside is generally sufficient. Prioritise outdoor activities in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon, avoiding the middle of the day.[6]
  • Ensure that you have a balanced view of sun exposure and are fully aware of both the risks and benefits of time in the sun.[7]
  • Make sure that you follow evidence-based sun-safe guidelines, like those provided by Healthy Bones Australia. This is especially important!
  • Speak to your GP if you have a health condition that might be exacerbated by, or make you especially vulnerable to, sun exposure. Vitamins & supplements might be a more appropriate choice for you.
  • Remember that as everyone is different, it is difficult to provide universal guidelines regarding sun intake.

While the majority of your vitamin D will come from the sun, a change to your diet might be on the cards. Food alone cannot provide the vitamin D that you need, but some food such as eggs and some fish can help bolster your intake.

Finally, taking vitamins & supplements might be appropriate for you. Your doctor can provide you with information tailored to your medical needs, and our pharmacists can provide you with general advice regarding products and dosages.

We are more than happy to help! Above all, we want to see you at your healthiest. Have a look at our selection of vitamins & supplements and consider how these might help you to achieve your health goals.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405161/

[2] https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-g-targeted-maternal-health-tests/vitamin-d-status

[3] https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-g-targeted-maternal-health-tests/vitamin-d-status

[4] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-d-deficiency

[5] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-d-deficiency#sun-exposure

[6] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-d-deficiency#sun-exposure

[7] https://wiki.cancer.org.au/policy/Position_statement_-_Risks_and_benefits_of_sun_exposure#Key_messages_and_recommendations


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