Digestion begins with the thought, sight and smell of food. These senses trigger appetite and oral and gastric secretions, preparing the upper digestive tract for food.
The next stage is chewing your food, breaking it down into smaller pieces and mixing it with saliva. Our saliva contains enzymes, minerals and antibacterial substances. The enzyme lipase helps to break down fats and amylase breaks down carbohydrates. This is where protein digestion starts.
Now on to the oesophagus. This is the gateway for food which travels through the sphincter and into the stomach. Loss of sphincter tone is one of the major causes of reflux, not an issue with acid as many people think.
Then we have the stomach. The inner most layer of the stomach is made up of parietal cells which secrete hydrochloric acid, chief cells which produce pepsinogen and mucous-secreting cells. Can you believe that around one to three litres of gastric fluid containing hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and binding products is secreted in a day? All of this helps to break down our food when it reaches the stomach. The main role of the stomach is to break down protein, convert enzymes, solubilise nutrients and convert iron into its bioavailable state. Water, iodine, copper, fluoride and molybdenum are all also absorbed in the stomach.
The small intestine is up next. This is where the MOST of our digestion occurs. A series of finger-like projections, called villi, are present on the mucous membranes of the small intestine, increasing the surface area where ABSORPTION occurs. Carbohydrate digestion is completed here as more enzymes are released by the pancreas. Protein is also further digested and fat digestion continues.
The small intestine is so important as this is where substances are absorbed including essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. If people have upper-digestive issues, constant inflammation or damage occurring to the small intestine, they are at risk of further issues throughout the whole body.
The small intestine can get an overgrowth of bacteria which is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This is highly correlated to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Many people who are diagnosed with IBS actually have SIBO. There are numerous causes of SIBO including medication use, infections, stress and poor diet to name a few.
One of the most important elements within the small intestine is secretory IgA (SIgA). SIgA plays an important role in mucosal immunity, the part of our immune system that separates the outside environment from the inside of the body including digestive and respiratory tracts. An important activity of mucosal surfaces (SIgA) is that they serve as a first line of defence to repel pathogenic microorganisms and provide a finely tuned balance to guarantee controlled survival of essential commensal bacteria.
SIgA may also have beneficial effects in overall immunity by reducing inflammation within the digestive tract. Microbiome testing can identify if levels of SlgA have been affected (commonly by medication use, poor diet, high stress, inactivity, infections, high gut inflammation and poor gut immunity) and are contributing to major gut symptoms. Prolonged low SIgA levels are not ideal as this creates an environment within the gut where unwanted bacteria and infections can thrive, creating an imbalance in the gut microbial community associated with disease. When we can identify low SlgA levels, we can address it through naturopathic treatment, changing the health of people’s gut.
Written by Karly Raven BHSc Naturopath
Want to know more about the digestive system?
The above is an excerpt (modified) from Nourish Your Gut, the latest ebook from naturopath and gut health guru Karly launching on 29 October.
A special pre-launch party is kicking off on 26 October in the Nourished Gut Community on Facebook. Join now to be a part of the fun and receive special bonuses, live Q&A and education sessions plus your chance to win a copy of the ebook!
If there is one thing you should focus on for your health it is sleep, yet so many of us are forgoing this most important health factor when it comes to preventing disease.
Sleep problems including insomnia and a general lack of sleep are frequently experienced by people of all ages. In fact, it is estimated that up to one third of people experience sleep problems. Not getting enough sleep, even by one hour, can have many detrimental health effects.
In our modern day, we are at a point of genetic mismatch due to technological changes. Our bodies are hardwired to respond to certain factors to alert us of when it is time to wake up to ensure we are ‘safe from predators’. These alerts include sounds and light. The introduction of electricity has changed the way our days are structured, and we can now keep our lives illuminated for longer than the 12 or so hours given to us by the sun.
Systems of the body correlated with poor sleeping patterns:
Hormonal disorders – testosterone levels can be affected with as little as one night of poor sleep
Magnesium status – poor sleep depletes magnesium (conversely, increasing magnesium status can promote a deeper sleep)
Poor immune health – we produce immune cells as we sleep. Poor sleep causes a reduction in cells we need to fight infection.
Reduced growth hormone – increased ageing, interfering with fertility
Poor gut health
Weight gain and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
How much is enough?
The researched amount of sleep to prevent disease is 7–8 hours every night. It is different for everyone, especially our little humans who need a lot more sleep than adults. The only way we can discover how much sleep is enough for us is by checking in with yourself and how you are feeling throughout the day with varying amounts of sleep. Children and adolescents require much more than adults so ensuring they are getting the right amount of sleep is crucial for proper brain development. Research also suggests that correct sleeping patterns can increase performance at school.
Creating bedtime rituals is key to getting a good sleep
At least one hour before bed, cease all screen time and opting for reading, meditation or chatting with friends and family instead.
Aim to live by the sun – rising to natural light also helps us to regulate our circadian clock
Hack your lighting – ensuring the colour of the light bulbs in your bedroom is more orange to yellow and the dimmer the better with as few lux or lumen as possible. Research shows melatonin suppression is impacted by levels of light greater than 5 lux. An average e-reader provides 30–50 lux and a night light about 40 lux. Ideally, use candles as they provide the right colour of light and sit at around 12 lumen.
Minimise alcohol consumption – one to two alcoholic drinks can be enough to disrupt sleep patterns for some people
Limit caffeinated drinks to before 2 pm – caffeine shifts our circadian rhythm over an hour later with every cup. Caffeine has a very long half-life (the time taken for the body to eliminate one-half of the caffeine) meaning if you drink it at 4 pm, it can still be in your system as late as 2 am.
Smells can stimulate a limbic response – using the same smell every night is a great way to stimulate a response in the limbic portion of the brain, signalling to you that it is time for sleep. Supercharging this by using lavender as it stimulates GABA production, a relaxing neurotransmitter.
Finish eating three hours before bed – our digestive system will take preference if you have eaten close to bedtime, not letting our body fully rest until food is digested. Aim to eat light in the evening and at least two hours before bedtime, if not more.
Keep a regular bedtime – we are creatures of habit. Letting your body know that it is time to rest helps your body get into a good rhythm, knowing it is safe to sleep deeply.
How can naturopathic care help
Even if you are getting eight hours sleep, it may not be enough to make sure you are getting the deepest sleep possible in the time you are asleep. If you are waking unrefreshed and feel like you have been tossing and turning, it is likely that you are falling short in the amount of sleep your body needs. At Kismet, we have numerous herbs and nutraceuticals that help with falling asleep and staying asleep.
Let us help you! Speak to one of our naturopaths to deepen your sleep and get the energy you need to get your health back in check. Book an appointment today.
We all want the best for our children and a large factor of a child’s health rests in what goes into their bodies. Children have a great need for quality nutrition as their bodies are growing rapidly. Lack of proper intake of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals equals lack of physical growth and neuronal development.
Laying the groundwork early is important to not only solidify their health but make it easy for them to make healthy choices as they grow into adults. Creating a healthy relationship with food early on can prevent a lifetime of illness. Holistic health includes having the right amount of nutrients as well as teaching your children where their food comes from, how it is grown, how to prepare it and why it is good for their bodies.
Focus on food quality
Most foods can be switched for a healthy, nutrient-dense alternative. Many parents are obsessed with making sure their child eats a lot of food. However, focusing on hitting nutrient targets rather than large quantities of food is a better goal to have in mind. If you are struggling to get your child to eat sufficient amounts, it is definitely a good idea to swap in some nutrient-dense, calorie-dense foods so they are getting quality in what they are eating.
It is ok if your child does not want to eat at mealtimes
Creating intuitive eating patterns early on is important as once emotional bonds and habits are tied to food it is very difficult to unwind them. Whilst intuitive eating is a recent theory, research has discovered it is associated with better weight control and psychological health. It may be hard to loosen the grip when you just want the best for your child but research has found that parental control over feeding activities inhibits a child’s ability to self-regulate their eating. It also increases the temptation and desirability of restricted foods. Creating an intuitive eating pattern means better health outcomes and psychological wellbeing rather than associating food with emotions or situational triggers.
How do we create intuitive eating patterns?
Let your child decide when they are hungry
Teach them about new foods
Help them understand and experience foods that are good for them and how those foods make them feel
Question, don’t tell. Ask them if they are hungry or how they feel after eating certain foods to get them in touch with their own body and intuition.
Meeting their needs
Below are some important nutrients to focus on and signs of associated deficiencies.
Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) – poor immunity and wound healing, behavioural changes, anxiety and depression, fatigue.
Speak to a health professional to discuss your child’s needs through the different age brackets.
Tips for fussy eaters
Recruit your child’s help. Get them into the garden to help grow their food then teach them how to cook and create with it. This gives them a sense of accomplishment when they get to eat the food they grew.
Meet hunger when it is there and respect your child’s appetite or lack of. Let them drive their intuition.
Be patient when introducing new foods. It can take many tries to get their palette used to new foods.
Encourage your child to stay at the table for mealtimes. Even if they aren’t eating, it forms a connection and bond with your family.
Make food fun and creative. Some simple ways are getting cut-outs to cut fruit into stars or other shapes and utilising natural colourings like beetroot powder and turmeric to make things colourful and interesting.
Praise and reward with non-food items or activities. Using food as a reward can set up an unhealthy relationship with food.
Let them know the superpowers the food will give them.
Minimising toxin load
Another key health goal is to minimise the toxin load for your child and includes food sources. Focus on providing organic and wholefoods and avoid artificial colouring and additives as they can cause a range of symptoms including hyperactivity, asthma, rashes and gastric upset.
However, food is not the only contributor where toxins are concerned. Skin products can be full of chemicals which can be absorbed into the body by as much as 80 per cent. This increased load can lead to behavioural conditions such as autism and ADHD. Avoiding chemical-filled body products can also help minimise the presentation of many skin conditions and skin irritations.
Holistic care for kids
Can we give our children herbal medicine? The answer is a resounding YES! How do we get herbal medicine into kids? This is not always easy but many companies now produce children’s versions of our favourite supplements. These are in small dosages and taste good. Lucky kids! Another bonus is that as children are smaller, they require less of the supplement meaning the price is often lower.
We love seeing happy, healthy children in clinic and watching them thrive as they grow and develop. Just as the children themselves are all different, so are their needs. If you would like help with your child’s specific nutrition and development, please book an appointment and consult with one of our naturopaths.
Are you carrying a bit (or maybe a lot) of extra weight that you just can’t shift? Were you able to lose weight easily in the past through dieting and exercise but that is no longer working for you?
I have struggled with weight issues since I was child so I know what it is like. It’s likely I have tried every ‘diet’ you can think of, lost the weight and then regained it numerous times over. My last crazy weight-loss regime (which was actually a very well-known 12-week transformation program that I did 3 times in a row) saw me lose a whopping 20 kg over 6 months and shrink down to the tiniest I have ever been – a size 8. But trust me when I say I wasn’t healthy. It was actually the straw that broke the camel’s back. I ended up with severe adrenal exhaustion and could not get off the couch for months. My immune system was a mess and I couldn’t get rid of the chronic cough I developed from a cold. My body was utterly depleted.
That was nearly eight years ago and, while my adrenals are much happier these days and my overall health is significantly improved, since that time I have regained all of that weight and a few extra kilos for good measure. There are days when I don’t feel ‘good enough’ or healthy enough to talk to patients about their weight, but then I remind myself that I am probably the best person to have that conversation because I really get it. And I will not judge you for it.
Weight issues are a heavy burden to bear (pun intended) and there is often a clear genetic link when you look at siblings, parents and grandparents. While there is no doubt that what you put in your mouth (i.e. food and drink) and the amount of exercise you do are significant factors when it comes to body size, there is more to the story.
One of the first things to consider is your body’s capacity to deal with inflammation and oxidative stress. We are designed to respond to injury quickly and inflammation is a normal part of our innate immune defence to repair tissue. The key here with acute inflammation is the rapid response and a resolution.
However, when the persistent irritant doesn’t go away (e.g. alcohol, fast food, smoking) or the repair doesn’t go as planned, we end up with chronic inflammation that does not go away; that is, there is no resolution.
Chronic inflammation is one of the leading contributors to disease including obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, PCOS, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, autoimmune disease, endometriosis, osteoporosis, infertility, autism and heart disease.
Adipose (fat) tissue is an endocrine organ
Yes, you read that correctly. Your fat tissue produces hormones including leptin (involved in appetite control), cortisol, insulin and numerous pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL-6, TNF-alpha and angiotensinogen. Up to one third of IL-6 levels found in the blood are produced from adipose tissue and IL-6 is strongly associated with diabetes risk. CRP has been shown to drive ALL other risk factors associated with heart disease including high cholesterol.
Your adipose tissue is making you hungrier, storing more fat and creating significant inflammation. Hopefully this helps to explain why obesity is considered to be an inflammatory disease now.
Exercise and inflammation
Did you know that exercise causes muscle cells to produce IL-6 too? BUT the difference here is that IL-6 doesn’t activate pro-inflammatory pathways (as it does with adipose tissue). Better yet, exercise also stimulates the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines including IL-10. (Tip: There are other ways to increase IL-10 and down-regulate inflammation too.)
Exercise is potently anti-inflammatory and can significantly offset inflammation produced from adipose tissue.
Of course, there is always one exception to the rule! There is a known genetic variant that may predispose you to exercise-induced muscle injury, with this risk substantially increased if you are overweight or obese.
Are you keen to know your risk and what exercise is right for you? Good! Read on.
Your ability to metabolise carbohydrates, protein and fats
There is more to weight loss than simply calories in and calories out (or energy consumption vs energy expenditure). Some people are genetically more prone to carrying extra weight.
Your genes influence your metabolism in a number of ways including how effectively you metabolise and absorb fats, carbohydrates and protein. Your genes also control your appetite through hormonal regulation (e.g. leptin).
It’s time to shift our thinking away from calories in and out, to regulation of energy storage and energy utilisation. It is here that we can use our unique DNA to help us find optimal health.
Genetic testing can determine your unique dietary requirements based on your DNA, as well as determine the best type of exercise for YOU to help you burn body fat.
Genetic testing for weight management
Testing includes genes associated with:
antioxidant and cellular defences
nutrients including vitamin D, A, B12, folate, choline
hormones and fertility
methylation and homocysteine metabolism
cardiovascular health, fat metabolism and cholesterol regulation
metabolism, diabetes and weight management
food allergies and intolerances.
One of the many benefits of genetic testing is that you can find out why you struggle with weight issues. It takes the blame out of the equation. And better yet, you can be provided with the information and support you need to make changes that will enable you to lose the weight, without any crazy fad diets.
I just sent off my own personal DNA test kit last week so watch this space.
Are you ready to take the next step? Book an appointment today. I am ready to help you take that first important step to better health.
Histamine is a signaling protein that helps tell the body to exhibit certain actions. It is a necessary component for the processes required for immunity, communication of messages within the brain, inflammatory processes and triggers release of stomach acid. However, an excess of histamine can cause the following symptoms within the body:
neurological – irritability, depression, brain fog
dermatological – rash, flushing, hives, runny nose
There is new information now linking histamine intolerance to female reproductive conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS.
What causes histamine intolerance
Histamine intolerance is a multi-factor issue incorporating many systems within the body which help excrete histamine. Additionally, the food we consume adds to this load.
When histamine levels get too high or when it cannot break down properly, it can affect your normal bodily functions.
Low functioning enzymes that help with the breakdown of histamine – DAO, HNMT, or monoamine oxidase
Gut dysbiosis, IBS or inflammatory bowel disease
Certain medications can block the breakdown. Ironically, antihistamines affect the breakdown of histamine. Other medications include analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants, antacids, diuretics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Certain foods can block the breakdown of histamine.
Some foods can also liberate histamine in the body – cacao, citrus, bananas, egg white, crustaceans, nuts and seeds, pork, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes.
Excessive consumption of foods that trigger the release of histamine (citrus, bananas, pork, egg white, chocolate, crustaceans, spinach).
Hormonal imbalance (insufficiency or excess) – particularly an increase in oestrogen levels make women more susceptible to histamine intolerance
vinegars and food containing vinegar (e.g. pickles and mustard)
In general, fresher foods tend to have less histamine so the older leftovers are, the more histamine they contain.
How is it detected
The gold standard for assessing if you may have a histamine intolerance is by doing an elimination diet as this can show results quite quickly and you are treating it at the same time. We can also test histamine levels within the body, as well as levels of DAO, HMNT and monoamine oxidase.
A naturopathic approach
Fortunately, histamine intolerance is not like any other intolerance and can be treated relatively quickly and easily through your diet. Limiting amounts of histamine heavy foods like wine, cheese and aged meats can be a good start to reducing your symptom picture.
If antihistamines work well for you and reduce symptoms, this could indicate you may be histamine intolerant. Further, long-term use of antihistamines can lead to an intolerance, so it is best to try and address or manage the cause as opposed to masking the symptoms.
Management of gut dysbiosis (most important) – through gut repair, potential microbiome mapping and introduction of specific probiotics related to histamine release. Repairing the gut can help to induce the production of the specific enzymes that breakdown histamine.
A low histamine elimination diet (for one month) – with slow reintroduction of higher histamine foods to test for tolerance. This is going to quickly reduce histamine levels in the body and, as it causes gut issues, reduce any gut inflammation, helping to repair damage and increase excretion of histamine.
Balancing hormones and addressing any associated conditions such as adrenal fatigue or high stress – there is a two-way relationship between histamine and cortisol, progesterone and oestrogen, which is why it is more likely to affect women.
General anti-inflammatory and immune support – many herbs and nutrients help prevent the release of histamine and the processing of histamine in foods. Nutrient supplementation can include quercetin (antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties), vitamin B6 (increases DAO activity), vitamin C (increases histamine metabolism and breakdown), vitamin E (may decrease mast cell activation) and magnesium sulfate (inhibits the release of histamines).
If symptoms do not improve, assessment of whether there may be MTHFR or other issues that may be causing the histamine load may be necessary.
Can you relate to this? Naturopathic treatment, testing and support is available. Book an appointment with one of our naturopaths. They are trained and experienced to work with you to get to the cause of your issues.
Autoimmune diseases are characterised by chronic inflammation with a loss of self-tolerance to ‘self’ or ‘auto’ antigens. This means that the immune system recognises its own specific body cells as ‘invaders’ which triggers an abnormal immune response to these cells, resulting in damage to organsor, in some cases, throughout the whole body. The causes of autoimmunity are poorly understood but are commonly seen as being multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, hormonal and immune factors. Key factors involve abnormal cytokine biology and activation of auto- or self-reactive CD4 positive T cells. It is suggested that autoimmune diseases occur in genetically susceptible individuals in which an environmental trigger activates the abnormal immune processes, leading to metabolic changes and then, as a result, the symptoms associated with these changes.
Environmental factors that trigger these immune processes include reproductive hormones, mechanical injury, chemicals (such as cigarette smoke) and, most significantly, viral and bacterial infections. The impacts of an ‘industrialised, western’ diet are also largely postulated as an environmental trigger and a risk factor to autoimmunity. Alongside this is the evidence of low levels of specific nutrients associated with a number of autoimmune diseases. However, not all environmental triggers to autoimmune conditions have been proven and further research is required to identify other potential environmental triggers for these conditions. Recent findings are also suggesting significant links between our microbiota (the microbes that reside within our body) and chronic inflammatory diseases and, particularly, autoimmune diseases.
Pending further research to determine the exact causes of autoimmunity, some factors associated with autoimmune conditions include:
infections such as shingles, frequent cold sores and Helicobacter pylori
long term use of permanent hair dyes
Autoimmune conditions are more common in females than males, with the exception of a few specific diseases.
occupational exposure to chemicals such as silica dust and pesticides
Naturopathic treatment of autoimmune conditions
As with all conditions, naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions is holistic and encompasses all aspects contributing to the individual’s condition. Interventions may involve lifestyle and dietary modifications, together with supplementation using nutrients and herbal medicine if required. As autoimmune conditions are characterised by chronic inflammation and dysregulation of immune responses, management focuses on factors that contribute to inflammation and immune system triggers, as well as supporting organs and tissues damaged as a result of these conditions. Naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions may involve:
identifying, eliminating and managing primary causes, triggers and contributing factors
restoring gastrointestinal health. Studies have shown links exist between a dysregulated intestinal epithelial barrier (leaky gut) and the potential development of autoimmunity.
modulating and improving immune responses
reducing stress. Physiological and emotional stress can increase systemic inflammation and contribute to inflammatory processes that occur in autoimmune conditions.
Vitamin D has potent immunomodulatory properties in which it selectively suppresses the activity of immune cells implicated in autoimmune conditions. Through this function, its use is supported in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, including systemic lupus erythematous (SLE). Studies have demonstrated decreased inflammatory markers with vitamin D supplementation, as well as a strong inverse relationship between serum vitamin D levels and relapse rates in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients after supplementation. For further information on the functions of vitamin D in our body, and particularly the immune system, check out our vitamin D blog post here.
Probiotics play a beneficial role in ‘leaky gut’ and have been shown to modulate mucin (a principle component of mucous required for healthy mucosal surfaces) production while also strengthening tight gap junctions. Various strain-specific probiotics have also been shown to improve intestinal hyper-permeability. Specific strains of probiotics have also been shown to decrease inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have both immune-modulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have demonstrated reduced levels of inflammatory markers within the body with supplementation of fish oil.
Zinc status plays a significant role in immune responses as well as promoting normal tissue repair, with low zinc levels also being associated with inflammatory conditions. Zinc aids in restoring normal immune function without having immune stimulating effects, important in the management of autoimmune conditions.
There are numerous herbs that are indicated for use in autoimmune conditions. Curcuma longa has potent anti-inflammatory properties beneficial in reducing chronic inflammation associated with autoimmunity.
Gentiana lutea offers a synergy of bitter and anti-inflammatory action that is well indicated for leaky gut, while also providing some anti-microbial activity that could improve dysbiosis.
Glycyrrhiza glabra is another herbal option indicated for its demulcent and anti-inflammatory properties. It is known to increase mucus production to protect the epithelial lining impacted in leaky gut conditions.
Hemidesmus indicus, albizia lebbeck, rehmannia glutinosa exert an immunosuppressant action which downregulates the heightened immune responses experienced in autoimmunity.
Both astragalus membranaceus and echinacea purpurea may also be beneficial in the management of autoimmune conditions due to their immunomodulatory properties.
Withania somnifera, eleutherococcus senticosus, centella asiatica, bacopa monnieri and glycyrrhyza glabraare all classed as adaptogens which have broad therapeutic activity that encourages the body to adapt better to stress as indicated in autoimmune conditions. Many adaptogens also exert immunomodulatory properties.
As stated, autoimmune conditions are multifactorial with many different contributing factors to the onset and progression of these diseases. Naturopathic medicine aims to support and manage a wide range of aspects contributing to each individual’s specific case.
For further information on the naturopathic management of autoimmune conditions, contact our naturopath, Karly, at email@example.com or book an appointment here.
I’m sure many of you have heard of vitamin D but do you fully understand what it does within your body?
Vitamin D plays a number of import roles within your body which enable normal functioning of a range of metabolic and physiological functions. Insufficient levels of this nutrient can result in disruption to these functions, leading to detrimental effects on our health and also giving rise to various disease states, particularly related to our immune system (1). A number of studies have found links between vitamin D deficiency and adverse health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cancer and an increased risk of mortality (2). Vitamin D has been shown to be particularly beneficial for our immunity, our fertility and during pregnancy and for our musculoskeletal system, as discussed below.
The need to provide your body with nutrients which the immune system loves is particularly important coming into the winter months – and vitamin D is one of these.
Vitamin D is an immune-system regulator in that it enhances the body’s immune response to both bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin D’s immunomodulation effects work through a number of mechanisms that ensure specific immune cells respond appropriately to pathogens (3). A recent randomised, placebo-controlled and double-blinded study on individuals who frequently experienced respiratory tract infections found significant decreases in the prevalence of infections during a twelve-month period in individuals taking vitamin D supplementation when compared with the placebo group (4). This study demonstrates the beneficial effects of an adequate vitamin D status on strengthening the immune system. Vitamin D also contributes to inhibition of adaptive immunity through its role in down regulating the inflammatory response of specific cells. This mechanism has demonstrated particularly beneficial relevance for autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease (3, 5).
Fertility and pregnancy
Vitamin D receptors are found within reproductive tissue including ovaries, endometrium, placenta, testes, spermatozoa and pituitary gland. This suggests vitamin D plays an active role within these tissues (6). Two studies have demonstrated promising effects of increased vitamin D status in women undergoing both donor egg and non-donor egg in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) on achieving clinical pregnancy than women with lower levels of the vitamin (7, 8). Evidence is suggesting vitamin D deficiency may also be the cause of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), one of the leading causes of female infertility (6). (Read more on PCOS here.)
Vitamin D deficiency in men has been associated with a number of implications regarding sperm quality such as a lower proportion of motile, progressive motile and morphologically normal spermatozoa which can have negative influences on male fertility (2). Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to have beneficial influences on some of these parameters such as motility and progressive motility – in other words, how well sperm swim and the direction in which they swim! (2).
Pregnant women are found to have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than non-pregnant women. Maternal vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an elevated risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and bacterial vaginosis, as well as small-for-gestational-age babies and babies with disorders such as rickets, reduced bone density, asthma and schizophrenia (2). Studies on supplementation of vitamin D during pregnancy have shown to be both safe and effective in achieving sufficient vitamin D status. Vitamin D supplementation has demonstrated beneficial health outcomes of reducing the risk of preterm delivery, as well as reducing infections, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and pre-eclampsia in mothers (2).
Vitamin D plays an integral role in the intestinal absorption of calcium, balancing levels of both calcium and phosphorus in the blood, together with the process of formation and demineralisation of the bones. As a result of these functions, among others, there is a correlation between decreased vitamin D levels and decreased bone mass density, resulting in conditions such as rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis and an increased risk of fracture (6). Vitamin D also plays a role in muscular health and strength, demonstrated through vitamin D deficient individuals experiencing muscular weakness and pain, difficulty walking and increased falls (5).
What are optimal vitamin D levels?
Doctors often refer to having ‘optimal’ levels of vitamin D when concentrations within the blood are within the reference range. But studies have indicated that even levels within this range can result in deficiency symptoms and impaired vitamin D functioning within the body. For this reason, it is important to ensure your levels are considered to be within the ideal range of >100nmol/L to optimise body function and prevent associated deficiency conditions. Due to the essential role vitamin D plays in immune health, as previously discussed, it is vital to ensure levels are also optimal for ensuring your immune system is functioning at its best, especially coming into the winter months (1).
Vitamin D concentration in the blood:
Optimal levels should be >100nmol/L
Mild deficiency is considered at levels 25–50nmol/L
Moderate deficiency considered at levels 12.5–25nmol/L
Severe deficiency considered at levels <12.5nmol/L
How do we get vitamin D and why do we need to test for it?
According to a 2012 national population-based study of Australians aged 25–95 years, 73 per cent of the population had vitamin D levels that were below the ideal range, with nearly one-third of the population being deficient and four per cent of the population having a severe vitamin D deficiency (9). Alongside this, the prevalence of deficiency was more common among women than men and vitamin D status also decreased with age (9). This study also found that levels of vitamin D decreased greatly during winter and spring, with 58 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men in southern regions of Australia being deficient during this time (9).
Vitamin D can be found in the diet most substantially in food sources of animal origin, however dietary intake alone is unlikely to meet your body’s requirements. The key source of vitamin D comes from your body’s ability to synthesise this nutrient within your skin through ultraviolet (UV) radiation produced by the sun (5, 1). Deficiency of vitamin D can be a result of insufficient dietary intake, reduced sun exposure and/or metabolic or malabsorption diseases (3). Due to the primary source of vitamin D being through sunlight exposure, reduced sunlight experienced during winter – particularly in Victoria – reduces the levels able to be made and therefore your vitamin D status may be diminished. For this reason, testing of vitamin D levels prior to winter is extremely important to ensure you are aware of, and maintaining, your levels throughout the cooler months as needed.
How much sunlight exposure do we need to receive adequate vitamin D levels?
From October to March, 10–15 minutes of unprotected sunlight exposure to 15 per cent of the body outside of the hours of 10am to 3pm, 2–3 times per week is sufficient for adequate synthesis of vitamin D (3, 1). However, due to lowered levels of sunlight between March and October, up to one hour is required to maintain adequate vitamin D synthesis during the cooler months (3). Short bursts of sunlight exposure are considered more effective for vitamin D synthesis than longer periods, as excessive UV exposure can inactivate the newly formed vitamin D within the skin (3).
Why you should supplement with vitamin D
Groups at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency (1):
people who avoid dairy and processed foods (sources of fortified vitamin D)
people who are unable to attain sunlight exposure
people with malabsorption conditions such as: irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
To discuss this topic in more detail, please contact our naturopath, Karly, at firstname.lastname@example.org or to make an appointment click here. Please note, Karly recommends bringing any recent blood tests with you to your appointment.
(1) Hechtman, L. 2012, Clinical naturopathic medicine, Elsevier Australia, Chatswood