I can’t believe we are in Autumn already. The sunny days on summer holidays will soon be a distant memory and with that in mind, it is a good time to remind you that it’s nearly time to consider taking or restarting your Vitamin D supplements.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and this is because it is made under the skin when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Although we can get Vitamin D from the food that we eat, it is difficult to get enough and we are reliant on the sun to be able to ensure our bodies get adequate amounts.
Why do I need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps you to absorb calcium and phosphorus from the food you eat, and this supports healthy bones, muscles and teeth. Even if you eat adequate amounts of calcium, it can’t be absorbed without enough available Vitamin D.
If you become deficient, this puts you at risk of osteomalacia (soft bones) and therefore falls. This can be a painful condition. In children, Rickets can be an issue that causes permanent bone deformity, weakened muscles and reduced growth.
Vitamin D may also have a role in heart health and the immune system too. There has been emerging evidence that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of serious illness in Covid-19. There is currently not enough evidence to make definite claims on this, but it may be that adequate Vitamin D levels would be beneficial.
Who needs to take Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency is a public health issue, although many are not aware that they may be deficient. Around 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 children do not have enough Vitamin D.
In the UK during the winter months (October to April) we do not get enough UVB rays from the sun to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D. We do have some stores from the summer months, but this is usually not enough to see us through the whole winter.
The current UK Government recommendations are therefore to take 10mcgs/day during these months.
Groups more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency
- Babies and young children, and children and adolescents who spend little time playing outside
- Pregnant and breastfeeding ladies
- Adults over 65 years old because their skin is not as good at making vitamin D
- Those with darker skin tones – people of Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern descent – living in the UK or other northern climates
- Those living with obesity
- Those who always/regularly cover most of their skin when outside.
- The further North you live, the less sufficiently strong sunlight there is for you to make vitamin D
- Anyone who spends very little time outside during the summer – the housebound, shop or office workers, night shift workers
- If you live in an area where the air is quite polluted
Sun Safety and Vitamin D
You do not need to sun bathe to get enough vitamin D from the sun in the summer months. 10 minutes/day of exposed arms can be adequate, so it is still important to follow general sun safety guidance to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
Can I get Vitamin D from my diet?
Although food is not the primary source of Vitamin D, there are certain foods that can contribute to your intake.
- Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring, kippers and eel contain fairly good amounts of vitamin D
- Some mushrooms will state high in Vitamin D as they have been exposed to UV rays when grown
- Egg yolk, meat, offal and milk contain small amounts of Vitamin D
- Fortified foods such as margarine, some breakfast cereals, some breads, infant formula milk and some yoghurts have added vitamin D.
Supplements are widely available from your pharmacy, supermarket or health food shop. You can buy tablets or spray.
Some people who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children aged six months to four years may qualify for Healthy Start vitamins which contain vitamin D. Ask your health care provider about this.
How much Vitamin D do I need?
The recommended dose is 10mcg/day from October to April. Those in the high risk groups should consider taking Vitamin D supplements all year round.
Babies under one year should be given a daily supplement of 8.5 to ten micrograms unless they have more than 500ml of fortified formula milk.
Some supplements offer higher doses, but more doesn’t mean better- you will not get extra benefit for doses above 10mcg and high doses over time when you are not deficient may be harmful.
If you are worried that you are not getting enough Vitamin D or that you may be deficient then speak to your GP. You would need your Doctor to diagnose a deficiency via a blood test. If you are deficient they will prescribe you a higher dose to be able to correct this.
Vitamin D is important to support healthy bones, muscles and teeth. Vitamin D is made under the skin when we are exposed to the sun during the summer months.
You can get Vitamin D from some foods, but this is not adequate to meet the body’s requirements.
We are therefore advised to take a 10mcg/day supplement during the winter months and those in high risk groups should consider taking this all year round.