Vitamin D deficiency linked to higher risks of heart disease and cancer

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because we make it in the skin when it is exposed to sunshine.  A tiny, insignificant amount is also ingested when we eat oily fish, but has our fear of the skin damaging effects of high intensity sunshine caused the current vitamin D deficiency that is now so prevalent in the UK?

We know that vitamin D is important for our bones and teeth, and low levels mean our bodies can’t fully utilise the calcium in our diet, but research is now showing that this vitamin has a multitude of other beneficial roles too.  Although still classed as a vitamin, it is actually more like a hormone that our skin produces when it is exposed to strong sunshine.  Research is now revealing more about its varied roles, which include keeping our arteries healthy, regulating insulin levels – aiding in diabetes management, and strengthening our immune systems to stay vigilant, fight infection and deal with abnormal cells that may develop into cancers.

Researchers in Europe and the US collaborated on a project that pooled results from eight separate studies involving more than 26,000 men and women aged from 50 to 79. [1]  During the time periods covered, the participants that died from cardiovascular disease and those that died from cancer, were revealed to have had the lowest blood levels of vitamin D which had significantly increased the overall risk of death compared to those with optimal concentrations of vitamin D.

Obviously there is a balance, too much high intensity sun exposure that results in burning is clearly bad for your skin, but sensible exposure will help you to make healthy levels of vitamin D.  For some people, their occupation (like night shift workers), or their culture’s traditional clothing, or simply staying indoors too much, can mean their vitamin D levels fall below that which is deemed necessary for good bone and immune health.

A simple skin-prick test can determine your vitamin D status. Supplementing with vitamin D3 drops may be appropriate and is certainly advisable for most populations during the winter months, typically between November and April.  However, if supplementing, do not exceed the recommended dose advised by your health practitioner, this is a fat soluble vitamin that the body stores, and healthy levels are between 40 – 50 ng/ml which is the same as 90 – 125 nmol/l

Contact Eleanor Strang at to find out more.


[1] Schöttker B, Jorde R, Peasey A et al. Vitamin D and mortality: meta-analysis of individual participant data from a large consortium of cohort studies from Europe and the United States.BMJ.2014; 348: g3656

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