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Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

Feb. 11, 2016

The Medplus pharmacy have informed us that there are imminent changes regarding dispensing of Cal. D. Forte, a commonly prescribed Vitamin D supplement.  The previous preparation is no longer available, however a new one will be ready at the beginning of March.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and there are 5 sub types. Sunlight is the body’s main source of vitamin D. There is no set amount of time a person should spend in the sunlight to get a good amount of this vitamin and obviously the difficulty in NZ is avoiding over exposure to the sun (which leads to burns and skin cancers). Correctly applied sunscreen reduces our ability to absorb vitamin D by more than 90 percent. Those with the lowest levels of Vitamin D are those who are housebound and see little sunlight also those with dark skin have lower levels.

Some foods, such as oily fish, eggs and fortified fat spreads, also contain the vitamin, although only in very small amounts.

The main function of Vitamin D is to increase the intestinal absorption ofcalcium- a process that is crucial for good bone health. Vitamin D had primarily been prescribed in the past for bone health, especially for those at high risk of fracture – mostly post-menopausal women with low bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis).

Over the past decade it has been postulated that Vitamin D was beneficial in the treatment and prevention of a wide range of diseases, from heart disease, cancers, headaches colds and stroke. However, some studies have recently questioned the potential health benefits of Vitamin D supplementation.

A study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, found no evidence that Vitamin D supplementation yields any health benefits. Furthermore, the study researchers suggested that low Vitamin D levels are a consequence of ill health, not a cause. A more recent meta-analysis (a study combining the results of many small studies), published in the same journal, also questioned the health benefits of Vitamin D supplementation. The research team, led by Dr. Mark Bolland at the University of Auckland, found that Vitamin D supplementation is unlikely to reduce the incidence of  heart disease, stroke, cancer or bone fractures. There is still much research going on to provide clarity. 

On the positive side there is currently a study in Australia and New Zealand looking at the role of Vitamin D in multiple sclerosis and there are studies overseas looking at the impact of Vitamin D in diabetes.  We eagerly await the results!