Despite being known internationally for our hot summers and endless days spent at the beach (ha, we wish!), it’s estimated 30 per cent of Australians suffer from vitamin D deficiency. And it seems we’re missing out on some serious health benefits as a result.
Researchers from Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh gave 13 adults of a similar age and weight either 50 micrograms of vitamin D a day or a placebo for two weeks.
Those being given vitamin D had lower blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their urine compared to those on the placebo.
Other benefits were found on the sports field, with results showing the participants were able to cycle six and a half kilometres in 20 minutes, one and half kilometres more than they could at the start. Interestingly, despite cycling 30 per cent further in the same time, they also showed lower signs of physical exertion.
While only taken from a very small sample, the results show promise for future research.
"Our pilot study suggests that taking vitamin D supplements can improve fitness levels and lower cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure. Our next step is to perform a larger clinical trial for a longer period of time in both healthy individuals and large groups of athletes such as cyclists or long-distance runners," said study co-author Dr Raquel Revuelta Iniesta.
Learn how to make a delicious vitamin-packed green smoothie with the Paper Tiger team. (Post continues after video.)
The study is provides further evidence of the need to tackle the growing problem of vitamin D deficiency.
"Vitamin D deficiency is a silent syndrome linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and a higher risk for certain cancers", said lead author of the study Dr Emad Al-Dujaili.
The vitamin is actually both a vitamin and a hormone and is responsible for helping control levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood - essential in the formation of bones and teeth.
While foods like oily fish and eggs are great sources of vitamin D, you cannot get enough from diet alone and most people get their quota from the sun, with our bodies generating the vitamin when skin is exposed to ultraviolet B rays.
More than one billion people worldwide are believed to have deficient levels of vitamin D thanks to insufficient sunshine exposure - so how do you know if you're one of them?
According to the Cancer Council Australia, there are certain groups of people who are more at risk of deficiency. These include anyone with darker skin, as the pigment in skin reduces UV penetration; people who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons; the elderly and people who are housebound; those who regularly work indoors; babies whose mothers are also vitamin D deficient; and patients with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Australia reports that low vitamin D levels can lead to bone and joint pain, increase the risk of falls as you get older and impact on unborn children if you are pregnant.
The amount of sun required to maintain levels varies based on season, location and skin colour. (Post continues after gallery.)
However it's also important to remember sun protection whenever you are in the sun - this will not put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency. In fact, you can now buy sunscreens specifically designed to prompt vitamin D production.
Your levels can be determined by a blood test, which your doctor can determine if you need. And, of course, consult with your doctor before adding vitamin D supplements to your diet.
Do you suffer from vitamin D deficiency?