Friday, December 19, 2014

Vitamin D: arming our immune system

D-eficiency D-efence
Cold, dark, winter months usually mean dashing outside when necessary and enjoying the rest of time in the warm indoors. But with the lack of sun and sunlight during this period, people in the UK are faced with the possibility of having a low vitamin D status.

Vitamin D is important in helping maintaining good health. In fact vitamin D trains and arms T-cells — the foot soldiers of our immune system which seek out and destroy threats, such as bacteria and viruses[1].

There is also a growing body of evidence indicating that vitamin D has an important role in maintaining bone health, ameliorating cell ageing and preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immune dysfunction and certain cancers[2].  Recently, there has been increasing interest in vitamin D deficiency and disrupted sleeping patterns.  More work needs to be undertaken but it is thought that bone diseases and nonspecific pain bought about by vitamin D shortfalls could disrupt sleep[3]. 

Lack of sunlight - what can we do?
Well, we should still enjoy the outdoors, and exercising outside regularly is a way to assists with endogenous production of vitamin D. We should also look at our diet. The latest data from the NDNS found that ‘meat and meat products’ were the main contributor to vitamin D intakes across all age groups[4], so incorporating lean red meat into your diet is one of the key ways to improve your vitamin D levels. We should also regularly include other foods such as fortified margarines, milks and cereals.

It’s worth noting that the Meat Advisory Panel recently conducted some research about people’s understanding of vitamins and a lot of respondents believed that green leafy vegetables contain vitamin D, when in fact they contain none.

Red meat: the ‘wow’ factors
Besides being one of the few foods that provide useful quantities of vitamin D lean red meat also contains protein, zinc, iron and B12 - which contributes to energy production, helping to prevent tiredness and fatigue. 


MAP FACT: Adding lean red meat to soups and stews during the winter months is a tasty way to help boost vitamin D status!


Dr Emma Derbyshire

[2] Ruxton C and Derbyshire E (2009) Health impacts of vitamin D: are we getting enough? Nutrition Bulletin 34: 185-97.
[3] McCarty DE (2014) The link between vitamin D metabolism and sleep medicine. Sleep Med Rev 18(4):311-9.
[4] Public Health England (2014) National Diet and Nutrition Survey Results from Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009 – 2011/2012). A survey carried out on behalf of Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency. PHE/FSA: London.