Many people only know the basics about vitamin D and that it comes from exposure to the sun, but vitamin D, and getting enough of it, is crucial for healthy bones, good heart health, a healthy immune system, reducing inflammation and the prevention of certain diseases.

What you need to know

Vitamin D, which is also known as calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin (it can be stored for long periods of time in fat) whose most crucial function in the body is allowing the effective absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and to support a normal immune system.

It can be found in a small group of foods such as fish and eggs and is also produced naturally inside your body when your skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It can also be taken as a dietary supplement.

Why is this vitamin so important?

Bone strength – It is essential for promoting calcium absorption in the gut and is also needed for normal bone growth and bone remodelling.

Fights disease – Studies have shown that vitamin D is connected to reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even something as basic as the common flu.

Combats depression – Studies suggest that a lack of vitamin D can be linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Vitamin D deficiency

Signs and symptoms:

  • Extreme and constant feelings of tiredness
  • Generally always feeling unwell and having many aches and pains
  • Very bad bone and muscle pain
  • Stress fractures (small cracks in the bone caused by overuse) in your legs, pelvis and hips

Although these are great indicators, there’s only one way to know for sure if you have a vitamin D deficiency and that’s by taking a blood test.

There are many factors that could contribute to you having lower than average levels of Vitamin D. If any of these apply to you, visit your local GP to have your vitamin D levels tested:

People who have darker skin:

Melanin (the pigment that makes skin darker) acts as a natural sunscreen. Therefore dark-skinned people may need almost ten times the amount of sun exposure to produce the amount of vitamin D a person with a lighter complexion would need.

Change in mood:

This vitamin has been linked to the amount of serotonin (mood and happiness hormone) your brain releases. Studies have shown that more exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels, whereas little or no sunlight can cause serotonin levels to drop. Therefore, people with a lower content of this vitamin may be more prone to depression.

50 years or more:

The older your body gets, the more difficult it will be to create vitamin D. Older people also tend to spend more time indoors which may also contribute to lower levels of this vitamin.

Very little to no contact with the sun:

Whether you’re living in a city where there are very few chances of coming into contact with the sun, or if you always use sunscreen when you leave the house, having too little sun exposure can cause a deficiency in this vitamin.

Kidneys cannot convert the vitamin:

As we grow older, many people’s kidneys lose the ability to convert vitamin D into its active form which then increases the risk of a deficiency.

Digestive tract cannot absorb the vitamin:

Many diseases, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease, may hinder the intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D from digested food.

Foods high in vitamin D

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Cod oil (can be taken in tablet form)
  • Egg yolk
  • Milk and yoghurt

People with extreme vitamin D deficiency should consult their doctor about taking a supplement.

Author's Bio: 

Ryno is the content coordinator for GetSavvi health insurance. They provide primary health care to South Africans. He regularly writes about health and lifestyle topics and manages GetSavvi Health’s social media pages. A Journalism graduate from the University of Pretoria, he worked as a hard news journalist before making his way to marketing. He loves his two beautiful Labradors, and when he is not walking them on the beach, he’s probably trying to follow his own health and lifestyle advice by trading in the take-aways for a healthy, home-cooked meal.