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Health with Omega - April/May 23

The Sunshine Vitamin: If It’s So Good, Is More Better?

The Omega Course started in Leamington Spa on 6th March with a lot of thinking and some ripples of laughter, not to mention an occasional surprising guffaw of hilarity as folk chatted about their experiences of death and loss so far in life. The topic was planning ahead. Planning ensures treatment is more what we want, but what about all those internet tales of lifesaving vitamin and mineral supplements?

One hot topic is Vitamin D, the ‘sunshine Vitamin’, so called because the skin cleverly converts cholesterol to Vitamin D under ultraviolet sunlight. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption from food to lay it down in bones and to support muscle and cell functions throughout the body.

The use of sunscreens, to protect against skin cancer, and the UK weather limit exposure to sunshine. Less direct sunshine means less Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also absorbed ready made from our diet in eggs, fish, liver, mushrooms and dairy products. Breakfast cereals, margarines and infant milk formula contain added Vitamin D.

What happens if we don’t have enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency has physical consequences for muscle, bone, heart, lung and mental health. It also reduces immune function. Rickets in children is a bone disease caused by too little Vitamin D. The bone deforms as it grows as it has too little calcium. It was also known as ‘Leeds Leg’ because the classic back-to-back houses were built so close together that the sun did not reach the pavement where the children played. The same process in adults is called Osteomalacia. Both are painful and limit mobility. Muscle function also deteriorates causing cramps and weakness. Replenishing Vitamin D heals the muscle and bone, easing the pain.

Who should take Vitamin D supplements?

  • Infants and children: the Royal college of Paediatrics and Child Health recommend:
  • All infants should receive a daily Vitamin D supplement of 8.5-10 mcg (600-800 IU) from birth until one year old, especially if breast fed
  • Children aged between one and four years should receive a daily Vitamin D supplement of 10 mcg (800 IU)
  • Parents should consider giving the same dose to children over four years, especially in winter
  • Adults will benefit if they have:
    • Dark skins as pigmentation screens sunlight
    • Malabsorption of food with Coeliac disease and Chron’s disease
    • Chronic ill health
  • People over 65, as the skin then makes less Vitamin D and daily supplementation is the most practical solution. The Chief Medical Officer of Health for England recommends daily supplements of 12.5micgorams (1000 IU)
  • Adults with liver or kidney disease and sarcoidosis should talk to their doctor before taking Vitamin D

There are over 50,000 scientific research studies on Vitamin D. There is no doubt that a Vitamin D deficient person benefits from supplements, but nothing definite to say a higher than normal Vitamin D level protects from diseases. At present giving supplements to get higher than normal blood levels is only done in research trials as harm may ensue.

Treatment of a low Vitamin D level is simple. High dose Vitamin D capsules for 6 weeks then low dose supplements daily.

Planning ahead on The Omega Course involves accepting death as a normal part of life. This means choosing medical care with good evidence and not panic buying expensive unproven remedies. Vitamin D is sensible in low dose for the above groups but using massive doses does not make someone live longer and may be harmful.

Dr Chantal Meystre, Director of the Omega Course

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