We all desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Whether we work out, have a well-balanced and nutritious diet or sleep at least 8 hours a day. The same concept is to the role of vitamins in our optimal health. The importance of vitamin D can’t be underestimated – being one of the most valuable vitamins our bodies need.
Why Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is responsible for increased absorption in the human body of calcium, magnesium and phosphate, and many other biological effects. Think of it like the glue that holds everything else important together and guides it to its purpose in your body.
Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that makes sure that the human body develops properly. It is an important nutrient that your body requires for building and ensuring healthy bones because our bodies can absorb calcium, the primary part of the bones when vitamin D needs are fulfilled. This mighty vitamin also regulates many other cellular functions in our bodies, such as cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function and glucose metabolism.
Vitamin D, also known as calciferol, is the only organic compound which can be produced in the body in response to sunlight. By being outdoors the sunlight converts a chemical in our skin into an active form of the vitamin. Despite calciferol being an important supplement, it isn’t naturally found in many foods. It is accessible from fortified milk or cereal, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring). Vitamin D also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which supports our immune system, brain cell activity and muscle function.
Why and when should you supplement with vitamin D?
Consuming vitamin D should be part of your everyday routine. Because our bodies aren’t able to naturally obtain as much calciferol as we need, we have to take supplements. For this reason, it is recommended to take a daily 10-microgram (400 IU) dosage of vitamin D with a meal to enhance absorption. Especially during the autumn and winter seasons in Estonia, when we are exposed to less sunshine and the weather is much colder and the hours of daylight and night are the same.
It is recommended to take calciferol alongside breakfast or with a bedtime snack, such as fruit, seeds or nuts. As long as it doesn’t interrupt your sleep because vitamin D is related to melatonin production. Taking it at night could potentially disrupt your sleep. Unless you are a night owl and your schedule differs from the average. Bodies and lifestyles are different, so the key is to find what works best for you and stick with it to ensure that your vitamin D needs are fulfilled. Studies show that taking vitamin D with a meal can also increase its absorption.
Why is it very important to supplement vitamin D in Finland?
If you have ever lived or are living in Finland, you know that during most of the year we aren’t exposed to a lot of sunlight. A variety of Finnish people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Because of this fact it is necessary for everyone to consume vitamin D supplements.
According to Mart Kull, a doctor and medical scientist, 73% of the Estonian population has less vitamin D than required and 8% suffers from complete vitamin deficiency, during winter or autumn. But this isn’t only a problem for Estonians. None of the Baltic and Nordic countries are currently fortifying foods with vitamin D. Although it is accessible as a food supplement in pharmacies and grocery stores, it is still barely consumed.
We know that Finnish summers are quite warm and filled with sunny days, but it doesn’t mean that Finnish people should spend all their free time under the sun during summer. And even if that were the case, it won’t be enough to keep your vitamin D levels optimal all year round.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
Vitamin D deficiency is most commonly caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight or when a person’s diet does not consist of enough vitamin D. In this case it’s treatable with supplements, but before doing so, you should definitely consult with your doctor, to get advice on the right dosage.
The most common vitamin D deficiency symptoms are:
- Sleep problems;
- Bone pain or achiness;
- Hair loss;
- Loss of appetite;
- Muscle weakness;
- Depression or feelings of sadness;
- Getting sick more easily.
Although these are the most common symptoms, having one or all of them doesn’t always necessarily mean that you have vitamin D deficiency. This could also happen that people who have calciferol deficiency, have not experienced any of these symptoms. Whichever the case, to be certain if you have vitamin D deficiency, the best and the most efficient way to know, is to get tested for the percentage of vitamin D in the blood. The optimal serum level is above 75 nmol/L, which should be guaranteed throughout the year. Salu offers lab tests to take a look at your levels and consult with a healthcare professional for further steps.
How do you treat vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is usually treated with supplements, increasing your sun exposure and eating more vitamin D-rich foods, such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products. When increasing your vitamin D dosage, it is also recommended to take magnesium with it, which helps activate vitamin D. For a severe deficiency, a doctor may advocate prescription vitamin D, which comes in much stronger doses of up to 50 000 IU.
It may take months to resolve symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, which all depends on how low the person’s vitamin D levels were in the first place. At the end of the day, the goals of treatment and prevention for vitamin D deficiency are the same- to reach and then maintain an adequate vitamin D level in your body.
While we all might consider eating more foods containing vitamin D and taking a stroll outside to get more sunlight, it is always recommended by healthcare providers to consume vitamin D on a daily basis, so don’t forget to take your vitamins!
Vitamin D for children and adolescents
The main role of vitamin D in the body is to regulate calcium and phosphorus metabolism. Thus, vitamin D plays an important role in the development of a growing child – the normal development of bones and teeth directly depends on it.
If there is not enough vitamin D in the body, calcium is not absorbed properly, the bones are not strong enough, and small children may develop rickets, growth retardation and they may start to stand, sit and walk later than normal.
In order to avoid that, for newborns, it is recommended to give 10 μg (400 IU) per day from the third or fourth day of life. Children aged 1-12 should take 10-20 μg per day (400-800 IU) and teenagers aged 12-18 should take 15-20 μg (600-800 IU) per day as prophylaxis.
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