There are many important nutrients that are vital for boosting your immune system and one of these nutrients is vitamin D. Vitamin D has gained a lot of press in recent years due to its numerous health benefits, and thankfully you don’t need to be up to date on the latest ‘superfood’ to get it, all you need is some sunshine (yes I know Melbournians, that does make it harder to get)!
Why do you need vitamin D?
Regulation of the immune system
Vitamin D supports the immune system with a number of observational studies linking low Vitamin D levels with conditions such as allergies and gestational diabetes, as well as autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes.
By ensuring you are getting enough Vitamin D, you are helping your immune system regulate its activity (not over active or under active), therefore keeping it in tip top shape to fight off any infections you may come in contact with over the winter months.
Bone health and the regulation of calcium
Vitamin D is essential for bone health as it is intrinsically involved with blood calcium homeostasis (the regulation of calcium levels in the blood). When blood calcium levels drop below a certain level, vitamin D along with Parathyroid Hormone, help to release calcium from your bones to bring your blood calcium levels back up to normal.
On the other hand, vitamin D also promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from your foods, making them available for incorporation into your bones. This is extremely important for bone density and overall bone health. Basically you have a cycle of calcium being incorporated into you bones and released from your bones (only when required) to support healthy bones and blood calcium levels.
Regulation of cell metabolism
Along with its role of immune regulation, vitamin D also plays a role in cellular metabolism and cell growth. It is thought vitamin D plays a crucial role in keeping our cell life cycle normal. So essentially, ensuring that cells grow and cells die as they should. The exact mechanism of how vitamin D does this appears to be somewhat unknown (and certainly too long to explain here), however it is just another reason to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D.
Fertility and healthy pregnancies
In females, vitamin D is required to support the implantation of a fertilised egg, and support the skeletal development of the foetus. Therefore, an essential nutrient for both the woman preparing for pregnancy and the pregnant woman to support a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin D in males is just as essential. It can support the healthy production of sperm, obviously vitally important for falling pregnant. Remember guys when it comes to falling pregnant, it is not all about the females!
Are you getting enough vitamin D?
If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels checked by a blood test then how do you know if you have adequate vitamin D? Luckily your diet and lifestyle can give you an insight into whether you are getting enough.
Do you work indoors all day?
If you arrive to work in the dark and leave after dark (much more common in winter) then it is likely you will find it difficult to get adequate levels of vitamin D throughout the colder months.
Do you use sun protection every time you are outdoors?
By using sun protection you are of course reducing your risk of skin cancers and this is vitally important, particularly through those peak times during the day (11am – 3pm). However if you cover up all the time, you are reducing your ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun and therefore have to rely primarily on your diet (and dietary sources are limited).
Do you drink alcohol regularly or smoke cigarettes?
Vitamin D is metabolised and converted to its active form, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) via a number of processes requiring the healthy functioning of your liver and kidneys. Both of which can be negatively impacted by alcohol and cigarettes.
How can you boost your vitamin D levels?
Enjoy sun exposure for 5-15 minutes every day
Exposure to the sun will ensure you are getting adequate vitamin D levels. Make sure you are safe in the sun though and avoid those peak times – you are looking to get Vitamin D not sunburnt.
Incorporate good quality meat and oily fish into your weekly diet
Small amounts of vitamin D can be found in animal foods such as beef, veal, liver, eggs, butter and oily fish (such as salmon, sardines and tuna). Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D such as milk and other dairy products. If you are vegan, you will need to ensure you get adequate sun exposure as you won’t be able to top up your vitamin D levels with your diet.
Be kind to your liver and kidneys by making healthy dietary and lifestyle choices
You can support your detoxification pathways and improve your liver and kidney function by eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and good quality meat and fish, as well as drink plenty of water (about 2-3 litres per day). Ensure you have at least 2 alcohol free days per week and if you smoke cigarettes, now would be a good time to think about quitting (and not just for your vitamin D levels of course). You can read more about tips to love your liver in our previous blog ‘How to love your liver’.
Talk to your naturopath about whether a vitamin D supplementation is required
As vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it can be stored by the body so there is the risk of toxicity if you take too much. Therefore, before you think about supplementation, make sure you talk to your health care practitioner in regards to whether you need to supplement and if so, at what dose.