It is not often we rheumatologists take the opportunity to talk about something as basic as vitamin D. But as a private rheumatologist in London, it’s something I like to discuss with my patients – especially those suffering from osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and lupus.
Suffice to say that vitamin D is a vital component to healthy living. It is something the body needs continually. Vitamin D is also something the body can synthesise naturally in concert with exposure to natural sunlight. In the absence of sufficient sunlight, additional vitamin D can be obtained through a healthy diet and supplementation.
Important to Your Bones
Vitamin D isn’t a single substance. Rather it is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids that contribute to a number of natural bodily functions. Vitamin D promotes muscle function and brain cell activity. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Most importantly though, vitamin D is critical for the absorption of calcium.
Your body can only absorb calcium when vitamin D is available in sufficient volume. As you know, your bones need calcium to remain strong and flexible. Therefore, a lack of vitamin D could inhibit calcium absorption and lead to osteoporosis. A lack of calcium absorption could make osteoarthritis worse.
Since vitamin D is linked to immune response, a lack of it can contribute to a number of autoimmune conditions. How much effect a lack of vitamin D has on conditions like lupus isn’t black and white. Patients respond to insufficient vitamin D levels in different ways.
Vitamin D Naturally Synthesised
The good news about vitamin D is that the human body naturally synthesises it. In fact, the skin essentially manufactures it when exposed to the sun. A mere 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure every day can do wonders for vitamin D production.
Unfortunately, we have been trained to use sunscreen whenever we go outdoors on sunny days. We have also developed a fear of ultraviolet rays. UV rays can be dangerous, there is no doubt, but there is also little risk of damage if exposure to natural sunlight is experienced in moderation.
In the UK, we have another disadvantage thanks to our geography. We are quite a distance from the equator, so we naturally get less sunlight in the winter. Additionally, our geography in relation to the Atlantic makes for plenty of cloudy days and a fair amount of rain. Getting out in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes every day is not as easy as it sounds.
Taking Vitamin D Supplements
As previously mentioned, we can get additional vitamin D from the foods we eat. Oily fish – like salmon, mackerel, and trout – are excellent sources. Eggs and meat offer additional vitamin D. If your diet doesn’t provide sufficient vitamin D to make up for insufficient time spent in the sun, supplements are always a possibility.
Vitamin D supplements are readily available at local supermarkets and chemists. You can also buy supplements online. However, I strongly recommend speaking with your GP or rheumatologist before beginning a supplement regimen. It is always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are taking the right supplement in the right amount.
If you suffer from osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or certain immune system diseases, your condition may be exacerbated by a lack of vitamin D. As a rheumatology consultant in London, I am always available to sit and talk with you about your health. If vitamin D is an issue for you, we can work out a way to increase your vitamin D intake and hopefully help you feel better, too.