Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

By Hannah Buckland, Healthy Hearts Care Planner

Winter is approaching in the UK; days are shortening and sunlight is starting to feel like a distant summer memory. As we hunt through our winter wardrobes for clothes to wrap up warm, it’s time to start thinking about whether we are getting enough Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. These nutrients are important for building and maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. In addition, vitamin D supports our immune systems and may have a beneficial effect on fertility. Our bodies can create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. From April to September, exposing our skin for 20-30 minutes a day to direct sunlight is enough for most of our bodies to produce the recommended 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.

However, between October and March, for anyone living in the northern hemisphere, the sun is not at the correct angle for us to be able to make vitamin D. For these months, we are reliant on getting vitamin D from other sources, such as diet and supplements. Dietary sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon, red meat, fortified dairy products and cereals, liver, and mushrooms that have been grown under UV light. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. As such, everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months.

There are certain groups of the population at a higher risk of deficiency. This includes those who aren’t often exposed to the sun (for example, people who are frail or housebound), who habitually wear clothes that cover most of their skin, who work nights, or who are dark-skinned. These individuals should consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms a day throughout the year. You can buy vitamin D supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets.
Why is this such an important topic? Currently, around a third of the UK population is deficient in Vitamin D, with increased rates seen in ethnic minority groups. A long-term deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to fractures or the development of osteomalacia. In addition, deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to increased risk of weight gain and diabetes, a rise in inflammation, and a negative impact on heart health. So, it really is important to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D in order to maintain long-term health and wellbeing.

It is worth bearing in mind that taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body, which can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart. Do not take more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful. 10 micrograms a day will be enough for most people – if in doubt, consult your doctor. Furthermore, although you cannot overdose on vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, you should cover up or protect your skin if you’re out in the sun for long periods to reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

Fun fact: vitamin D is technically not a vitamin but a hormone. A vitamin is usually something that we cannot make within our body. Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body is able to make itself, with the aid of sunlight.

Quiz Questions

What is the recommended daily vitamin D intake? 5 micrograms ☐, 10 micrograms ☒, 15 micrograms ☐, 20 micrograms ☐
The human body is designed to obtain its vitamin D from sunlight. True ☒, false ☐
Which two minerals does Vitamin D help our bodies absorb? Calcium ☒, phosphate ☒, iron, zinc

References

British Nutrition Foundation (2016). Government adive on Vitamin D. British Nutrition Foundation. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/helpingyoueatwell/vitamind.html [Accessed 1st October 2020].
British Nutrition Foundation (2018). New advice on Vitamin D. British Nutrition Foundation. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritioninthenews/new-reports/983-newvitamind.html [Accessed 1st October 2020].
NHS (2020). How to get vitamin D from sunlight. NHS. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-get-vitamin-d-from-sunlight/ [Accessed 1st October 2020].
NHS (2020). Vitamin D. NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/ [Accessed 1st October 2020].
Rhitrition (2020). Are you getting enough vitamin D? Rhitrition. Available from: https://rhitrition.com/are-you-getting-enough-vitamin-d/ [Accessed 29th September 2020].
The Food Medic (2017). What’s the deal with Vitamin D. The Food Medic. Available from: https://thefoodmedic.co.uk/2017/10/whats-the-deal-with-vitiman-d/ [Accessed 1st October 2020]

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