Although most mums on this site are looking to lose their baby weight or trying to follow a healthy eating plan post baby, it is really important to focus on your overall health as well as trying to follow a weight loss plan. And as Vitamin D is a deficiency which is becoming more widespread we thought we would cover the subject here so you can see how and why Vitamin D is really important for your health.
Rickets is one of those diseases which conjures up images of Victorian England and pale, poorly nourished children. However, this disease is making a comeback, and although there is plenty of sunshine in Australia it is still an issue and Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise and can have serious implications, especially for women during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
Vitamin D is the vitamin which is most important for keeping bones and teeth healthy. It helps to regulate minerals such as phosphorus and calcium in the body. Rickets and bone problems in adults are caused by a severe lack of Vitamin D, but any deficiency cause aches and pains.
A lack of Vitamin D in adults can lead to osteopenia, a softening of the bones which can develop into osteoporosis as women age. There are few symptoms which indicate osteopenia, and if a woman’s bones are becoming thinner or less healthy she will not be in pain or have any other indication that it is happening.
Recent research has attributed low levels of Vitamin D to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. For pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, keeping up their Vitamin D levels is even more important as they are responsible not only for their own nutrition but also for that of their baby.
Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin as the vast majority of our supplies come from the sun. When the sun’s rays fall onto our skin, the body produces Vitamin D. In countries in the north of Europe or Canada the problem is that there is just not enough sunshine, especially in the winter months to allow the body to produce Vitamin D.
In Australia we are lucky enough to have plenty of sunshine, so the lack of opportunity to get out on a sunny day is not a large factor in Vitamin D deficiency. However, the risks of skin cancer are such that we have become accustomed to slapping on the sunscreen each and every time we leave the house, and using sunscreen stops the body from manufacturing Vitamin D.
People with paler skins make Vitamin D more quickly than people with dark skins, who need longer exposure to the sun. Women whose culture demands that they cover up their bodies and wear veils across their face, or long sleeved clothing may find it far harder to manufacture enough vitamin D from sunlight on their skin. Lack of exposure to the sun can also be a problem for people who work long hours, are housebound or who avoid the sun as they have a high risk of developing skin cancer.
The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight on the skin, and dietary sources of Vitamin D are not as good as getting out into the sun regularly. However, there are some foods which are very rich in Vitamin D and these can be eaten to boost levels at times when the sun is lower in the sky. The very best food source of Vitamin D is oily fish such as salmon or sardines. Taking a supplement such as fish oils and cod liver oil will also increase levels in the body. Other foods which are good sources of Vitamin D are eggs, milk and breakfast cereals.
Most people will get enough Vitamin D through the sunlight on their skin and the foods they are eating. People who have very dark skin or find it difficult to get enough exposure to the sun may be recommended to take a supplement.
Breastmilk does not contain much in the way of Vitamin D, so mothers who have low levels of Vitamin D will require a supplement to ensure that their babies are receiving sufficient amounts.
Formula milk already has additional Vitamin D added to it, so supplementation is not required. For pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, family doctors can advise on whether supplements are required, and on other risk factors for developing osteoporosis in the future.