The Dynamic Duo
I’m sure we all know by now that calcium is essential for bone health, and that inadequate calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis. And that’s not all – calcium is also needed for our heart, muscles and nerves to function properly, and for blood to clot.1 But did you know that calcium is only one half of a beautiful partnership that makes this all possible? To do its job correctly, calcium needs its other half – it needs Vitamin D!
Vitamin D is essential for bone health because it helps the small intestine absorb calcium. It also plays a role in supporting growth and maintenance of the skeleton and regulating calcium levels in the blood.2 Without enough vitamin D, the body cannot absorb sufficient levels of calcium, and resorts to taking calcium from stores in the skeleton. This weakens existing bone and prevents the formation of strong new bone.1
How Do We Get Vitamin D?
There are two ways our bodies get vitamin D:
- Sun – vitamin D is formed in your skin after exposure to sunlight
- Diet – vitamin D is present in some foods (e.g. oily fish, eggs)
Sunlight is by far the largest contributor to our vitamin D levels. Food alone cannot provide an adequate source of vitamin D without some sort of supplementation or fortification.3
For most Australians, the amount of sunlight exposure needed to obtain an adequate level of vitamin D is relatively low and can be achieved through regular incidental exposure to the sun (e.g. spending a few minutes outdoors each day).2
Vitamin D Deficiency
It is therefore quite surprising that vitamin D deficiency is a common condition in our beloved sunburnt country, affecting over 30% of adult Australians. According to Professor Robin Daly of Deakin University, vitamin D deficiency has emerged as a major public health issue for Australia and requires immediate attention.4
Australians who are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency are:
- Frail, elderly, ill or institutionalised people who live mostly indoors
- People who are obese or physically inactive
- People who take certain medications or have certain conditions which cause poor absorption of vitamin D (e.g. coeliac disease)
- Naturally dark-skinned people (darker skin = less UV penetration)
- People who cover their skin for cultural/religious reasons
- People who avoid sun exposure by choice or for medical reasons3, 5
Australians are significantly more likely to experience vitamin D deficiency in winter than in summer. Older people are also more likely to experience vitamin D deficiency than younger people, as they have more difficulty synthesising vitamin D from sunlight.6
The consequences of low vitamin D levels include:
- Bone and joint pain
- Osteoporosis (weakening of bones)
- Osteomalacia (softening of bones)
- Increased risk of falls and bone fractures in older people2, 3, 6
Vitamin D deficiency has also been implicated in cardiovascular disease, increased cancer risk and mortality, sarcopenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, epilepsy, and cognitive dysfunction.3
So, do you know if you’re getting enough sunlight? Check out the maps below to see how much you need by season and location. (These maps are intended as a general guide only. It’s important not to expose your skin to sunlight in times of high UV radiation).
How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake
If you don’t get enough exposure to sunlight and/or belong to any of the at-risk groups mentioned above, speak to your doctor about getting your vitamin D levels tested. It’s a simple blood test, and is often part of a general check-up.
There are two ways to increase your vitamin D intake:
- Get more sun exposure
- Take dietary supplements
The recommended sun exposure in Australia is 5-15 minutes of sunlight 4-6 times a week.3 However, this varies depending on a number of factors including skin colour, age, time of year, time of day, and geographical location. See our maps above for more specific recommendations.
If you are not able to increase your amount of sun exposure, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Supplements come in many forms, including powders, tablets, capsules, and liquids. Your doctor can advise you on the appropriate dose for your needs.
Just one serve of AdVital contains 80% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin D, as well as 27 other vitamins and minerals necessary for your health. AdVital is nutritionally complete and therefore ideal for many of the at-risk groups mentioned above as they may also experience poor overall nutritional intake (e.g. frail, elderly, ill and/or institutionalised people). It can be added to your favourite food and drinks without altering taste or aroma. See the single serve AdVital Recipe Guide for some quick and easy recipe ideas.