Science and Health
"Vitamin D is
essential for good health!"
By Rachel Kayani
...A little light goes a long way !
Research over the past few years has shown that vitamin
D is essential to good health, reducing the risks of
developing a wide range of medical conditions including
osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis,
multiple sclerosis and certain cancers. As if that was
not enough to convince us of its potential benefits the
biggest review of the effects of Vitamin D has found
that it can reduce your risk of dying from all causes.
Most people get the vitamins they need from eating a
healthy balanced diet, but Vitamin D is an exception in
that very little comes from our foods. Instead Vitamin D
is made by the action of sunlight on the skin, which
accounts for around 90% of the body’s supply. But due to
lifestyle changes people spend less time outdoors in the
sunlight, especially children, and the effects of
sunblock too mean that scientists are concerned we may
not be producing enough of this vitamin. The weak winter
sun in Britain reduces the body’s ability to make this
vitamin, and according to scientists, 60% of the
population is Vitamin D deficient by spring.
Low levels of Vitamin D during the winter months could
explain why we tend to get more ailments, such as coughs
and colds, at this time of the year. One study in
America found that giving Vitamin D supplements to a
group of volunteers reduced episodes of infection with
colds and flu by 70% over 3 years. Other health
discrepancies such as the higher rates of heart disease
in northern European countries, like the UK, as compared
with southern Europe, could also be related to sun
exposure as much as the Mediterranean diet.
The most commonly associated disease with vitamin D
deficiency is rickets. Rickets was common in children
100 years ago, and was characterized by ‘bow-legs’ due
to softening and deformity of the bone because of lack
of vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption
and hence bone development. It was effectively
eradicated by improvements in nutrition. However,
doctors have been surprised to discover several cases of
rickets in recent years, most notably amongst UK Asians.
Darker skin produces Vitamin D more slowly that lighter
skin, and lack of exposure to sunlight means that
growing children may not get enough Vitamin D.
In addition, traditional Muslim dress can mean very
little skin is exposed to sunlight, which can have
serious health implications for young women, especially
during pregnancy, as it can affect the mother’s and the
baby’s health. In light of this, health experts are
seeking to propose that supplements should be provided
for pregnant women deemed at risk, such as vegans and
women who cover their skin for religious reasons.
The good news is that getting enough Vitamin D is
relatively simple. All you need is a bit of sunlight, in
fact just 15 minutes of sunlight on your hands and face
several times a week is enough. To boost intake in food,
people need to eat oily fish (salmon, sardines etc),
eggs, milk and fortified cereals, take vitamin