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Research roundup: Vitamin D

The role that vitamin D plays in helping to prevent osteoporosis has been made clearer in a study published by Japanese researchers.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease where thinning and loss of structure occurs, often with ageing.

The researchers showed how vitamin Dsuppresses a protein involved in the process of bone breakdown. It was previously known that vitamin D has a significant effect on bone health because it stimulates calcium absorption in the gut.

The vitamin also has a role in reducing numbers of osteoclasts (bone-resorbing cells). This information helps scientists understand the vital role of vitamin D in bone health.

A molecule that our bodies use to make vitamin D is formed in the skin after normal exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Fish liver oils, oily fish and some dairy spreads contain some naturally occurring vitamin D, but in northern hemisphere countries where UV exposure is less, food is supplemented with vitamin D. Milk, breads and cereals are fortified in the US and Canada; dairy spreads, breads and cereals in Europe.

In New Zealand, we are usually able to receive our body’s vitamin D requirements from the sun’s rays year-round. We usually get enough vitamin D from our daily outdoor activities such as hanging clothes on the line, getting the post from the letter box and walking back and forth to the car.

Certain groups of New Zealanders may especially be deficient in vitamin D:

  • those leading nocturnal lifestyles
  • people who habitually keep their skin covered when outside eg. for religious reasons
  • very dark-skinned people
  • frail older people living in residential care or whose skin is less efficient at producing the vitamin

Current Ministry of Health advice is for people to have a small amount of sun exposure each day to ensure adequate vitamin D status.

HFG tip

Think of ways to enjoy some outside activity every day. It will help your bone health in more ways than one. But remember – after 10 minutes or so – slip, slop, slap and wrap!