Growing up, I always remembered vitamin D as being the ’sunshine vitamin’. However, since starting my nursing training, I have been interested in researching the importance and health benefits of vitamin D.
In the UK, we are encouraged to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This provides all needed nutrients excluding vitamin D. Oily fish has been identified as a significant source, whereas meat, egg yolks and other fortified foods, including margarine and some breakfast cereals, provide smaller amounts.
The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK is significant: during the winter, 30-40% of people in the general population and belonging to all age groups are vitamin D deficient. Near the end of the summer months, 13% of adolescents and 8% of adults are vitamin D deficient.
The intake of vitamin D and its status are imperative for overall health and wellbeing, as well as for bone and calcium-phosphate metabolism.
Without adequate vitamin D, bones may become brittle, thin or misshapen. Literature suggests that sufficient vitamin D status is protective against autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, neurocognitive dysfunction and respiratory infections.
Compared to the general population, individuals with learning disabilities have an increased risk of developing low bone mineral density, osteopenia, osteoporosis and fractures. This is mainly attributed to the higher prevalence of obesity or undernutrition, inactive lifestyles and polypharmacy.
Epilepsy is the most common neurological condition within the learning disability population. One in four people with a learning disability experience epilepsy, compared to one in five in the general population.
”The identified prevalence of vitamin D deficiencies among epilepsy patients is high”
Approximately, 30% of individuals with learning disabilities are prescribed anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), an identified risk factor for fractures and low bone-mass density. Reasons for this have not been definitively known, but it could potentially be due to AEDs breaking down the body’s vitamin D stores at a higher degree than normal.
Consequently, this could result in AEDs causing a vitamin D deficiency, which could potentially lead to osteoporosis and osteomalaica and an increased risk of fractures.
The identified prevalence of vitamin D deficiencies among epilepsy patients is high, however, the number of research studies assessing the effect of vitamin D on seizure control is limited.
One of these research studies, conducted in 2012, measured vitamin D levels and through the administration of vitamin D3, normalised levels in 13 patients with pharmacoresistant epilepsy.
To identify whether vitamin D3 was impactful on seizure frequency, the study compared numbers of seizures during a 90-day period, prior and following treatment commencement. The study found the median seizure reduction to be 40% and concluded that normalisation of vitamin D levels can have an anticonvulsant effect.
Due to very little evidence on the effect of vitamin D on epilepsy, it is acknowledged that this area needs researched further. However, as nurses this is something we could be mindful of.