The importance of Vitamin D this autumn: are you getting enough?

A fried egg make to look like yellow sunshine behind a white cloud

It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because vitamin D is primarily produced on the skin in sunlight. As it’s no secret that we’re coming to the end of summer, it’s more important than ever that we get plenty of vitamin D. It’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system and is also important in regulating our mood.

So how can we chase the sunshine this autumn? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her ideas on getting enough vitamin D through the coming months.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

THE FACTS

The most active form of vitamin D (vitamin D3) is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. What actually happens is that when ultra violet rays reach the skin, a form of vitamin D is converted into the active form known as cholecalciferol. This is then transported to the liver and kidneys which produce an even more potent form.

This is great if there’s sufficient sunshine! However, it’s a well-established fact that there’s widespread deficiency of vitamin D within populations living in the Northern Hemisphere (for example, the UK), as we get little sunlight during the autumn and winter months. The body can store vitamin D in the liver, but it’s often insufficient to last through the winter months, and that’s assuming there’s was enough to be stored in the first place.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D is available in a few animal-based foods as D3 but in plant foods the form Vitamin D2 is harder for the body to convert into the active form. However, it’s still a very viable nutrient, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

THE BENEFITS

Vitamin D is super-powerful and has far-reaching health benefits. What we know for certain though is that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth. This is mainly because it’s essential to metabolise the minerals calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a key role in keeping the immune system on track and is thought to help ease low mood. More research is emerging all the time on this topic.

THE FOODS

Vitamin D is found in a number of foods and even though it still has to be converted to its most active form, food sources make a valuable contribution to levels needed by the body. Salmon, for example, is one of the best sources of vitamin D3. However, wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon mainly because of the food the fish have consumed. Other oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are great (tinned sardines are particularly good if you eat the small bones), plus tuna, egg yolks, oysters and shrimp.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

However, if you’re vegetarian, the only plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. They work just like humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Other than that, there are a range of fortified foods to choose from such as cow’s milk, soya milk, orange juice (not all brands will be fortified, so check the label), and some cereals which will also contain vitamin D.

THE SUPPLEMENTS

Public Health England issued advice a couple of years ago that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months, such was the widespread problem of deficiency. However, this should very much be considered a minimum level as the body generally needs much more. Supplements contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2 and they will both help prevent deficiency symptoms, which can include muscle and joint aches and pains, depression, poor immunity and more falls in the elderly.

 

The best advice is to start taking a supplement now but also try to eat more foods or fortified foods containing vitamin D.

So whilst the summer has almost finished for another year, top up those Vitamin D levels through diet and supplementation to make sure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin.

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Beat the winter blues with these top tips for combating low mood this season

Young woman wearing hat and scarf smiling with autumn background

Turning back the clocks is often a pivotal moment in people’s thinking.  Short, dark days can often negatively affect mood, energy and appetite.  However, with greater understanding of how we can effectively ‘by-pass’ the winter, we can enjoy the season rather than wishing the next six months away!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how we can boost our mood and keep on smiling through the winter.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

It’s estimated that as many as one in 15 people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or winter depression.  The onset of SAD is often governed by our hormones and the disturbance of natural body rhythms.  The body naturally likes to wake up when it’s light, which is rarely possible for most people during the winter months.

Here are some of my top tips for minimising the winter blues.

EAT YOURSELF HAPPY

Certain hormones have a significant impact on seasonal changes in mood, energy and appetite; a lack of serotonin is often responsible for mood disorders in general.   People (especially those affected by SAD) frequently crave carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, cereal, cakes and biscuits.  There’s nothing wrong with eating starchy carbohydrates as long as you stick to unrefined whole grain carbs such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats and avoid the sugary-laden snacks.

You can also increase serotonin levels by eating more foods containing the amino acid, tryptophan.  Great foods to eat include chicken, turkey, milk, yoghurt, bananas, figs, tuna and oats.

Levels of another brain neurotransmitter – dopamine – are also reduced during the darker months.  Foods that help to raise dopamine levels include lean meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.

BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR

During the winter months symptoms of low mood, lack of energy and increased appetite are common.  One of the ways to combat these is to balance blood sugar levels so that energy is sustained throughout the day.  This, in turn, will help to balance mood and stop food cravings.

The most important point to remember is to eat three meals a day that each contain some form of protein.  If you need a couple of snacks in between, that’s fine, but try to include some protein as well.  For example, sliced apple with nuts, oatcakes with chicken, plain yoghurt with fruit etc.   Additionally, it’s best to avoid or dramatically reduce coffee, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes which play havoc with blood sugar levels.

LIGHT THERAPY

The control centres in our brain determine our moods and daily rhythms, which in part are governed by the amount of light that enters our eyes.  When the light hits the retina of the eye it effects the release of the hormone melatonin.  Melatonin is released during darkness, making us sleepy.  This is one of the reasons we feel tired during the winter because it’s dark much of the time!

Light or phototherapy is a treatment for SAD involving daily exposure to high-intensity, broad-spectrum artificial light from a light box, which suppresses the release of melatonin.  It appears to work really well although sufferers usually need to make the other changes to diet and lifestyle for maximum benefit.

TRY THE HERB ST JOHN’S WORT

This popular and well-known herb is found in many part of the world, including Europe, Asia and the United States.  It produces distinctive yellow flowers and many parts of the plant are used to create a very effective natural solution to help symptoms of low mood.

St John’s wort appears to help raise serotonin levels which in turn improve mood and motivation.  It generally takes around three weeks to really see results but it’s certainly worth persevering.

For more information and to try St John’s Wort visit the Nature’s Way website.

GET ACTIVE!

We all know that the body naturally loves to be active. However, we’re also now realising the wonderful benefits of exercise on mental health.  Indeed, health practitioners involved in treating depression have seen how effective it can be.

When we exercise or ‘get active’ the brain releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.  Exercise also relieves feelings of stress and anxiety and actually helps raise energy levels.

If the gym is not for you, don’t despair.  Just getting more active, for example taking a brisk 30- minute walk in the fresh air, can really invigorate and raise your mood.  So, instead of reaching for the remote control and hiding under the duvet when it’s damp and dull outside, get out there!

  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts