Vitamin D supplements can keep bones strong, but they may also have other benefits for your health

When the weather is warm and sunny, most of us don’t worry about getting our vitamin D. But as winter approaches, bringing with it cloudy days and long nights, you may be wondering whether taking a vitamin D supplement can help and what benefits it might have.

In the summer, the best way to get vitamin D is to get some sun. Ultraviolet light (especially the shorter wavelength UVB) interacts with a type of cholesterol in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is then converted into vitamin D.

Since the production of vitamin D depends on UVB, this means that our ability to produce vitamin D decreases during the winter. Vitamin D production also depends on where you live, with people living near the equator producing more vitamin D than those living near the poles.

Vitamin D deficiency is a problem during the British winter. This is due to its northerly location and cloudy weather, as well as the lack of time for outdoor activities.

A study of more than 440,000 people in the UK found that 18% were deficient in vitamin D during winter. Vitamin D deficiency was even higher among certain racial groups, with data showing 57% of Asian participants and 38% of black participants were deficient. This is because the melanin content of the skin determines a person’s ability to convert UVB into vitamin D.

Given the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK and its importance to our health, in 2016 the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition outlined recommendations for the amount of vitamin D people should consume during winter.

They recommend that people aim for 10 micrograms (or 400 IU international units) of vitamin D per day. This will help people avoid serious deficiencies. This can be achieved by taking supplements or eating certain foods rich in vitamin D, including fatty fish such as herring, mackerel and wild salmon. For example, 100 grams of fresh herring contains about 5 micrograms of vitamin D.

The most obvious benefit of taking vitamin D supplements is bone health. In fact, vitamin D was first discovered 100 years ago for its ability to prevent rickets, a disease that causes brittle and curved bones.

Vitamin D supplements may help prevent vitamin D deficiency.
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Although rickets is less common in the UK today, the disease can still occur if children are deficient in vitamin D. In adults, a lack of vitamin D can cause bone pain, tenderness, and muscle weakness, and increase the risk of osteomalacia, commonly called rickets. This can cause the bones to weaken or soften.

The reason vitamin D deficiency can have such a big impact on bone health is the vitamin’s relationship to calcium and phosphate. Both minerals help keep bones strong, but they require vitamin D to strengthen bones.

Other health benefits

In addition to its effects on bones, a growing body of research is starting to show that vitamin D supplements may have other benefits for our health.

For example, research shows a link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of contracting certain viral illnesses, including the common cold, flu, and COVID-19.

Likewise, several studies, including my own, have demonstrated in cellular models that vitamin D can promote immunity against microorganisms such as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. This means that vitamin D may prevent certain types of infections.

Vitamin D also suppresses inflammatory immune responses, potentially preventing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

A 2022 trial of more than 25,000 people over 50 found that taking a daily 2,000 IU (50 micrograms) vitamin D supplement reduced the risk of autoimmune diseases, especially rheumatoid arthritis. 18%.

Vitamin D supplements may also be associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. A large Australian study of more than 21,000 people aged 60-84 found that participants who took 2,000 IU of vitamin D supplements daily for five years had a lower risk of major cardiovascular events, such as stroke or heart disease. lower compared to those who did not take the supplement.

It’s unclear why vitamin D has these benefits in other areas of our health. It’s also worth noting that in many of these trials, few participants were actually vitamin D deficient. While we might speculate that the health benefits observed may be greater in people with vitamin D deficiency, it will be important for future research to examine these factors.

While it’s too early to tell whether vitamin D supplements have broad health benefits, it’s clear that it has benefits for bone health. It may be worth taking a supplement during the winter, especially if you are over 65, have darker skin, or spend a lot of time indoors, as these factors can increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Research also suggests that we should reconsider recommendations for vitamin D supplementation. Although it is recommended that people take 400 IU of vitamin D per day in the UK, many trials have shown that 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day is beneficial to health.

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