As the days get shorter, many of us start taking vitamin D. But some people’s levels remain low despite diligently taking supplements.
The vitamin we can make from sunshine shouldn’t be epidemically low in countries like Australia, but close to two thirds of adults who have been tested are found to be deficient.
However some people’s vitamin D levels remain stubbornly low despite sunshine and supplementation. As low levels of this nutrient are linked to the development of some cancers, depression, insomnia and many serious health conditions, absorbing enough vitamin D is vital.
Research has uncovered a common reason for vitamin D levels remaining low. The good news is, it’s easily remedied!
Reasons why we’re low in vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency was previously considered to be caused by simply not getting enough sunlight. The housebound, dark skinned or those who cover up for religious reasons were usually considered at highest risk. But so many of us no longer get enough UV simply due to long workdays spent inside, use of sunscreen and other Sunsmart practices.
But research has revealed that despite adequate sun or supplementation, many people just aren’t metabolising Vitamin D and this can have a significant impact on your health.
The magnesium problem
Magnesium plays a major role in both how vitamin D is transported around the body and for it to be metabolised in the liver and kidneys. Without enough of this mineral, we can’t convert sunlight or supplements into a usable form.
But guess what? Magnesium deficiency is at least as widespread, as low vitamin D. New studies have demonstrated the connection between the two, and found that supplementing magnesium alone can raise vitamin D levels.
Why are we so low in magnesium?
Two of the biggest reasons we can’t get enough magnesium through diet alone, includes modern agriculture (fertilisers and other mass production methods) and the fact many people are having too much calcium. The biggest dietary culprit is dairy products, which have too much calcium and not enough magnesium. Taking a calcium supplements that’s not correctly balanced with magnesium, just makes the deficiency worse!
Along with dairy; refined foods, carbonated drinks and eating too many animal products, also impact the delicate balance between magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. In the modern diet, magnesium is always the looser.
Drugs that deplete magnesium
Caffeine, alcohol and other diuretics, wash much-needed magnesium out of the body. But commonly prescribed medications can also rob us of this mineral. The biggest culprits include:
- The contraceptive pill, HRT and other hormonal drugs,
- drugs used to treat reflux and heartburn (including over the counter favourites),
- blood pressure lowering drugs.
Other causes of vitamin D deficiency
Our body needs optimum amounts of essential vitamins and minerals to stay in balance. Too little of one or too much of another (like we’ve found with calcium) can cause a cascade of problems.
Apart from a magnesium deficiency, low vitamin K can also impact vitamin D levels. So too liver, kidney, thyroid or parathyroid problems.
We also know what’s going on in our gut influences every part of the body. To ensure optimum absorption in the gut, it’s important to nurture a healthy microbiome.
Lastly, a small percentage of people inherit faulty genes that are involved in Vitamin D metabolism. While a single gene mutation mightn’t have a significant impact, sometimes this deficiency is hereditary. As DNA testing is expensive, and could potentially impact life and health insurance in the future, explore magnesium and other options first.
How to increase your vitamin D absorption
Most people respond well to taking vitamin D supplements but if this doesn’t work, start by increasing your magnesium uptake and consider taking a supplement.
Maximise magnesium in your diet by:
- Cutting down on dairy products by making them a treat rather an every-day food.
- Buying organic produce if possible or grow your own.
- Avoiding caffeine, especially with supplements and meals.
- Drinking less alcohol.
- Eating more unrefined plant foods (including organic seeds, nuts and beans).
- Get more sun exposure on your arms and legs daily through winter.
- Review your medication (especially if it’s self-prescribed, for reflux or indigestion).
- Consider non-hormonal options of contraception or to manage menopausal symptoms, or take a good quality multi-vitamin if you can’t.
- Consult a naturopath to maximise gut health, create a balanced diet and find the most appropriate magnesium and Vitamin D supplements, if necessary.