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The many benefits of vitamin D aka the Sunshine Vitamin

Written by Tiffany (Fin) Mackenzie | Thursday, 16 July 2020

naturopathy tips and advice

Have you heard about the Sunshine Vitamin aka vitamin D? Unfortunately, for many of us, during the winter months when we don’t get as much sun, we can become deficient. In fact, up to 30-50% of us could be deficient – especially in winter.

Often the elderly, those of us with dark skin, disabled people, the housebound, people living in the southern states and children who wear sunscreen every day are at risk of vitamin D deficiency (1). But did you know that even if you do get enough sun you can be deficient in vitamin D? Some interesting research was done on Hawaiian surfers and Puerto Rican Farmers who had much more sun exposure than the average person but were also deficient (6).

‘How can that be?’ I hear you ask.

Well, experts are a little baffled but think it may have something to do with our skin not converting it to the active form of vitamin D. This may be due to nutritional deficiencies in zinc/magnesium/iron/Omega 3 oils or the fact we eat far less foods rich in vitamin D than we used to. Foods rich include vitamin D are egg yolks, oily fish, liver and sundried mushrooms.

Already well known for the important role it plays in the body and for bone metabolism, vitamin D has also garnered intense interest as the general public has become more aware of the vital role it plays in immunity, heart health, athletic performance, cancer prevention, arthritis, diabetes, treating chronic pain, treating auto-immune disease, healthy term birth weight in babies, preventing tooth decay in children and reducing blood pressure (8-32). Recently there have been some promising studies on vitamin D and ADHD. One study showed that dosing just 2000 IU/day of vitamin D for children with ADHD had very positive results even taken together with Ritalin (15).

Vitamin D and the flu

Considering the impact of the flu in the winter season, we saw a rise in influenza cases in 2019 compared to 2018 (34). Naturopathic philosophy teaches us that it is not just the germ, it is in fact the health of the host that plays an important role in our susceptibility to illness or infection. It is also vital for our bodies ability to recover and regain health.

Considering that so many older people in residential care homes are the ones most at risk of suffering complications from influenza, it has been proposed that vitamin D supplementation of 2000 IU a day for everyone in a nursing home would be beneficial. It is a very inexpensive supplement which is easy to dose in a small capsule, drop or spray.

The effectiveness of vitamin D for school children

A study on a group of 334 school children who took 1200 IU a day over four months showed a risk reduction of 7.8% against the flu virus (3).

Other evidence shows that those who have lower vitamin D levels in the winter months are more likely to get the flu (5). And older adults who have vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduce the chance of falls and fractures (1).

So, it makes sense to optimise your vitamin D levels!

Can vitamin D help if you have the flu?

There is evidence for vitamin D once you are actively sick. Doctors in one study suggest having “A vitamin D hammer” – a one-time dose of 50,000 IU or 10,000 IU three times a day for 2- 3 days. This study showed a full resolution of symptoms achieved in two to three days with vitamin D alone (4). This treatment is very inexpensive and should be earmarked for more research.

How do I get it?

Vitamin D from sunshine is free and regular exposure for 20 minutes a day will provide about 1000 IU for people living in mid-latitudes who expose about 30% of their body surface.

“If getting sun exposure, aim for six to seven minutes mid-morning or mid-afternoon during warmer months, and seven to 40 minutes at noon during winter; arms and shoulders should be visible, and without sunscreen. Be aware that UV levels are highest between 11am and 3pm so be cautious going out uncovered for longer than this.” (35)

Vitamin D is available to almost everyone, even the poorest and recently unemployed. Populations that can’t get outside easily (the elderly, prison populations, indoor workers) may need vitamin D supplements to achieve sufficient blood levels. We should work towards testing vitamin D levels in those populations to ensure that they are sufficient (9). Vitamin D supplements are available in Australia from well-known Naturopathic practitioner brands in our very own Endeavour Wellness Clinics in capsule, liquid, drop and spray forms. FYI, 1 drop/capsule is usually equivalent to 1000IU.

Asthma and vitamin D

Another thing to consider is asthma. I see many children with asthma in my clinic and often it can be triggered or worsened by acute viral illnesses like colds or flus. Low serum vitamin D levels have been linked to an increased risk of asthma and one study published in the journal ALLERGY showed that vitamin D can help manage asthma symptoms. The vitamin D levels of 307,900 people were measured between 2008 -2012 and those with a vitamin D deficiency were 25% more likely than other asthmatics to have at least one flare up in the recent past (7). This is particularly important here in Australia as we have one of the highest rates of asthma in the world.

Did you know 1 in 9 Australians have asthma? That’s around 2.7 million people! (34)

The cost of asthma in Australia in 2015 was $28 billion! This included health care costs (medication, hospital/out of hospital costs), loss of productivity, disability, premature death, wages for carers and income support. In 2017 there were 441 deaths due to asthma which is absolutely astonishing and very sad. Mortality rates are higher for Indigenous Australians and those living in remote or lower socioeconomic regions.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

Vitamin D has also been shown to be crucial in order to reduce morbidity and mortality rates in those with COVID-19. A small percentage of people who develop COVID-19 symptoms will develop shortness of breath and pneumonia which can then trigger multi-organ and systemic sepsis or septic shock. What we know is that those with immune insufficiency, the immuno-compromised, the elderly, those with co-existent disease like cardiovascular disease (and on various ACE inhibitors and other drugs) may be at more risk. Other information trickling down is that those who are obese, vitamin D deficient and live in areas with high air pollution are also at high risk. I found these numbers astounding: those with Vitamin D deficiency may be up to 20 x more likely to die from COVID-19 (36, 37, 38, 39).

While researching this article these numbers really shocked me, it should not be this way in our modern Australia. Please tell someone you know about Vitamin D and share this article with someone who may have asthma, are suffering from the flu, an Indigenous Australian or anyone who is elderly or housebound. And if you haven’t already, check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test via your GP in order to stay healthy this winter!


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Tiffany (Fin) Mackenzie

I am a Naturopath with a passion! To do what I love and to help people, to widen their eyes to Natural Medicine, that it can help them improve their health and wellbeing. For example you don’t just have to go to the doctor and take antibiotics, you can build up your immune system.

I studied Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy, Diploma of Nutrition and Diploma of Remedial Massage. I have worked and raised 2 kids while also studying for my Bachelor of Health Science (Complementary Medicine). I have worked at the Fountain Centre for 4 years as a practitioner and including 2 years on the front desk helping.

Not long after, I opened Green Door Health, a multi-disciplinary natural therapies clinic in Elanora Heights on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. This has been very popular and something I love to do. I now offer a custom herb mixing service option available via online booking or walk in over the counter.

I have been lecturing at Endeavour College of Natural Medicine on their Health Science Degree Programs in Naturopathy & Nutritional Medicine. This is something I enjoy: teaching, interacting and learning from the next generation of practitioners!  

I understand the pressures modern families are under and understand that they need access to excellent preventative health care. I am passionate about Children’s Health especially Eczema, Allergies, Food Intolerances, Sleep Issues, Behavioural Concerns, Fussy eaters, Digestive Complaints and Skin Conditions.

Read more by Tiffany (Fin) Mackenzie