Are you getting enough vitamin D?
Vitamin D is best known for its role in bone health. We must have vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth and too little vitamin D may result in soft bones or rickets in children and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). It is also needed for healthy teeth and muscles.
Increasingly, evidence also suggests that vitamin D has broad effects on health and wellbeing and is associated with a reduced risk of a range of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, multiple sclerosis and some cancers. These studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of disease.
Vitamin D also helps regulate the immune system and supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of infections such as cold, flu and chest infections by almost 20%.
There is evidence that many of us have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D throughout the year and this situation generally becomes more acute during the winter.
Could I be deficient?
Vitamin D is primarily made available to us by the action of sunlight on our skin and we need to expose at least our face, neck and arms to the sun for 15-120 minutes each day to generate the required amount, depending on our skin colour.
We have, however, been told repeatedly that we need to limit our exposure to the sun and use sunscreens, which both reduce the amount of vitamin D we produce.
In addition, for a given amount of sunlight, fairer skins generally make more vitamin D than darker ones, which means that vitamin D deficiency is likely to be even more prevalent in those with darker skin. Also, many of us spend most or all of the day indoors and the elderly may get very little natural light exposure and be more prone to deficiency as vitamin D manufacture in the skin generally gets less efficient as we age.
What can I do about it?
While some vitamin D is available through foods such as oily fish, liver, eggs and fortified foods, the amounts are limited – for example, one egg contains only 40IUs of vitamin D – and we would need to eat large amounts of these foods every day to achieve adequate levels.
So, exposing your skin to the sun is the best way to increase your vitamin D and if you are unable to do this, supplementation with appropriate levels of vitamin D is probably the only practical way to optimise levels.
Supporting this view, in 2016, the UK Government took the unprecedented move of recommending supplementation of vitamin D for everybody (from newborn to elderly) every day throughout the autumn and winter months.
Want to know more?
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