The importance of adequate levels of vitamin D in our bodies is only just being appreciated in recent times. Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that helps maintain healthy bone and muscle strength. It helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphate, minerals also important for the development of strong bones. It also helps provide us with protection against diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, depression and even some cancers. Its important role in fighting infection and immunity is continually being discovered.
Many people are often unaware they are vitamin D deficient. In fact it is estimated that 23-49% of the general population in Australia have vitamin D deficiency in a mild form, with another 10% having a more moderate to severe deficiency. Often the deficiency remains unknown until a problem occurs; such as stress fractures, which occasionally result from weakened bones.
In pregnancy a deficiency can affect the amount of calcium your baby stores in their bones. Extreme and rare cases can lead to a bone deficiency occurring in the very young called Ricketts.
Most of our vitamin D we get through exposure to the sun. Therefore those most at risk of deficiency are individuals who continuously cover most of their skin with clothing, those who spend most of the daylight hours indoors and darker skinned individuals as they do not absorb as much of the sun’s rays to convert into vitamin D. Interestingly obesity can cause deficiency as vitamin D is readily absorbed into fat cells instead of the more vital areas it is needed in the body. Exposure to sunlight in Australia is a particular issue as we are taught to be cautious of the sunlight because of the risk of skin cancers. Diet does provide some vitamin D but only in small amounts, being found in foods such as fatty fish, eggs, meat and dairy
Most women these days are tested for vitamin D levels as part of the routine antenatal testing that occurs as part of prenatal care. If the level is too low vitamin D supplements are generally ordered. Doses of vitamin D should only be taken under doctor or midwife supervision.