Vitamin D

They call it the Sunshine Vitamin


Summer is here and we need to take advantage of the lovely weather by going outside and building on our vitamin D levels in our bodies. Allow me to tell you about vitamin D and the importance of it. Vitamin D is a pro hormone as well as a vitamin and plays an important role in health and well being. The most important role this hormone has is with bone health by taking calcium from your gut into your bones thus strengthening your bones. Other functions of vitamin D include maintaining a strong immune system, healthy muscles and good looking skin.

We obtain vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light and through some foods like eggs, mushrooms, fortified foods, animal proteins, dairy products and fatty fish like salmon. The vitamin D we get from or diets is very small and not always adequate.



But in some cases this can also be said about obtaining vitamin D from the sun. The UVB absorption has significantly dropped among the population due to busy lifestyles, working long hours and having your lunch at your desk. Where is the sun exposure gone to? Even with kids, you don’t always find them outside playing in the sun but rather playing the latest games on their electronic devices or embarking into the social media world.

As I mentioned before, vitamin D controls the absorption of calcium from the gut, but that is not all vitamin D is good for. This hormone is also found in 38 different tissues or organs throughout the body. A vitamin D deficiency leads to decreased bone density which is related to fractures, osteoporosis, osteomalacia and rickets.  With all the research done on vitamin D there is some convincing data showing that a deficiency in vitamin D is linked to various other diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia and some cancers. A vitamin D deficiency has also been linked with schizophrenia.

With all this vitamin D talk, how do you know if you are at risk of a deficiency? The people at risk of developing a Vitamin D deficiency are the elderly, people with limited sun exposure, natural darker skinned people, people who wear clothes that exclude sunlight for cultural reasons, vegetarians, people who are overweight and breastfed infants of mothers who have a low level of vitamin D.

The amount of vitamin D you need does not have to be science. The cancer counsel of 2014 recommends the following:

During summer, expose your arms, face and hands to sun without sunscreen for a few minutes on most days of the week. But not in peak UV times (10am-3pm). In the winter some people might need two to three hours of sunlight to the face hands and arms over a week.

We can never get too much of the fat-soluble vitamin through sun exposure, but you can reach toxic levels when supplementing vitamin D. An excess amount of vitamin D in the body can lead to hypercalcaemia or a high calcium load in the blood. Symptoms of hypercalcaemia are loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea, mental confusion, excessive urine output and an extreme thirst. It can also lead to calcium deposits in the soft tissues of your body like in the liver, kidneys and heart. Toxic levels of vitamin D can also lead to bone loss because the calcium is then pulled away from the bones and excreted by the kidneys at an increased rate. For this reason people should not just take vitamin D if it has not been recommended by a medical professional who has done a blood test on you and looked at the levels. It is better to obtain vitamin D from the diet and from the sun.

Let’s step into the sunshine.


About the author:

Tanya has been providing dietary guidance since 2009 as a registered dietician licensed in South Africa. Her goal is to help patients understand the connection between diet and diagnosis for improved nutritional well being.

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