I can’t emphasise enough the importance of vitamin D, and many of my blog posts are likely to mention it.
Before you read this, please be aware of the following:
Evidence suggests that the vast majority of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D.
Now you know that, you might want to read up on exactly what you’re missing out…
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a group of vitamins that you can get through exposure to the sun, eating vitamin D-rich foods, or taking supplements. The easiest way for most people to get their dose of vitamin D is from the sun, as foods tend not to contain enough vitamin D for a person’s daily recommended allowance (no more than 25 micrograms for most people).
Vitamin D is important because it is needed to help the body absorb calcium: without it, calcium is pretty much useless. Not many people realise this, but they do tend to understand the importance of calcium. However, because the two are linked, vitamin D is also important to help maintain healthy bones.
But that’s not all. Vitamin D has added extra benefits! It also regulates the immune system – and if you’re wondering why you get so many colds, it may be because you’re vitamin D deficient. It also reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis, with those located nearer the Tropics much less likely to develop the condition. Vitamin D may also help when you’re that bit older, keeping your brain functioning. But it doesn’t end there – this magic vitamin helps to maintain a healthy body weight.
Now, I always knew that vitamin D was amazing and very much underrated – but having researched the benefits, I had not realised until now that it may also help asthma sufferers. It reduces the severity of the symptoms and the frequency of attacks. This is a subject close to my heart, since my brother-in-law died from an asthma attack in 2011 aged just 34. Asthma isn’t just a childhood illness and I would advise every asthma sufferer to consider taking these supplements. (From research done at Harvard Medical School)
Perhaps not surprisingly, vitamin D reduces the chance of women developing rheumatoid arthritis, but, more surprisingly, Cancer Treatment Centers of America conducted a study which showed that people with sufficient levels of vitamin D in their bodies also had a lower chance of developing cancer. Wow!
And it doesn’t end there either. If you’ve got tuberculosis, you might want to get some vitamin D down you quick – since it helps you recover quicker – and a study in 2012 showed that low levels of vitamin D may increase the chances of you having a heart attack and dying early!!!
Oh, and that’s just the serious medical stuff. Vitamin D is also a mood-booster if you’re feeling down and has a load more other health benefits too.
Phew!!! So many benefits!!!
How Do I Know If I’m Vitamin D Deficient?
If you’re in certain groups, you’re more likely to be vitamin D deficient. This includes people who don’t get enough exposure to the sun (which is most of the UK!), people on certain diets and those whose calcium intake is limited due to other factors (such as medication). Unfortunately, there is a link between most AEDs and a vitamin D deficiency…
If you don’t have any of the above diseases, and haven’t any blood tests, how do you know if you’re deficient of vitamin D? Well, seeing as vitamin D helps absorb calcium, it is likely that you will be experiencing some of the following symptoms:
- Bone pain;
- Low energy/fatigue;
- Muscle cramps;
- Weak immune system;
- Depression symptoms/mood swings;
- Problems sleeping.
Because those symptoms are quite vague, you might not even notice them yourself – and if you do, you might shrug it off as something else. Your GP or another doctor might do the same. I noticed my symptoms but I shrugged mine off. So, when you have a blood test, it might be worth asking if you can have your vitamin levels checked too – just in case… Alternatively, you can always buy the supplement from a pharmacy such as Boots,or start eating foods containing vitamin D (eg Actimel) and see if you notice a difference.
My Experience of Vitamin D
I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 11 and been on various AEDs since then (my very first blog post contains a more detailed breakdown of my life – which makes interesting reading to other epilepsy sufferers or relatives of those with epilepsy). I started off being treated by my local neurologist and each time I saw him, we would discuss the side effects of the medication (in particular weight changes and the possibilities things could go wrong if I got pregnant on that drug – even during my teenage years, to prepare me for the future!). I’d be weighed and have my bloods checked each time (which always came back fine). Strangely enough, vitamin D was never mentioned…
I was referred to a neurologist in London when my local neurologist tried to change my medication and things didn’t work out. After a few visits, he looked at my records and said, “Hmmm, you haven’t actually had your blood tests done here. I think it’s about time we did them.” And so my blood tests were taken there and then. I was expecting them to come back fine, as they always had done in London, but it came back that I had a calcium and vitamin D deficiency – which confused me. I drink loads of milk and eat loads of cheese – how could I possibly have a calcium deficiency? When I looked it up, I realised that vitamin D was needed to absorb the calcium, and so no matter how much calcium I had through my diet, I would always be deficient. I hadn’t heard of vitamin D so did a bit of Googling and was a bit shocked by what I found… Howcome this hadn’t been found out before?! I was given supplements with my prescription which I started taking immediately.
I started to notice a difference straight away. Beforehand, I hadn’t really thought there was a problem, but now I realise that my teeth had started to become kind of see-through. Very bad indeed. They were also yellow, no matter how much I brushed. They looked awful. One tooth looked brown, turning black – my mum thought I’d knocked it when I’d had a seizure and that it was dying. When I started taking the vitamin D, there was a visible difference. They’re not perfect (and I’m still reluctant to show my teeth), but they are a lot whiter and thicker than before – which has got to be healthier (and if I’m being honest, looks better – and people do judge you on your appearance!).
I also realised that something else stopped with the vitamin D supplements. Even from my teenage years I used to wake up sometimes in the night with terrible cramps in my leg or foot – they were so bad that they literally woke me up. I never considered them a problem and thought they must be a ‘woman thing’ that everyone had at some point… but then they magically stopped when I started taking the supplements. This was such a relief, I can’t tell you, as they caused me agony (oh, and I’m sure my husband is glad not be woken up in the middle of the night too!).
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was about 19 (though I’m sure I’d had it right through my teen years), and I now wonder whether vitamin D had a role to play. I do still feel low sometimes but not as often as I did before. I think that it has definitely helped. I don’t think that the blood tests I had locally checked for vitamin D! A friend of mine who suffers from depression takes vitamin D specifically for this purpose.
Now, this hasn’t been scientifically proven (or at least, I don’t think it has been) but my AEDs make me very pale, and when I take enough vitamin D I do find that I have more colour in my cheeks (ie am ‘normal’ looking!).
What has been scientifically proven is that vitamin D is a better preventative measure against coughs and colds than vitamin C (which many people take). I, for one, have found that I have had hardly any colds since I’ve been taking the supplements; prior to this, I was catching them all the time (so much that I thought the AEDs had weakened my immune system).
I am also a member of an epilepsy forum, and many members on there now have illnesses such as osteoporosis which are a direct result of being vitamin D deficient because they have been on AEDs for years and their neurologist never said a word… I am lucky in that I have a fantastic neurologist who picks up on everything.
So, I take my prescribed vitamin D every day (it’s not too bad – it’s chewable) but I’m not convinced that it’s enough (my teeth still aren’t great and I still look very pale). So to top it up, I take an Actimel a day – this contains vitamin D – and I’ve found this does the job.