The myths and facts about vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for many functions, from helping our bones absorb calcium to boosting our mood over the winter months. But recent figures show 13 per cent of women and 9 per cent of men in the UK have low vitamin D levels.

Unlike most other essential nutrients, it is not naturally found in many foods. In fact, we make 90 per cent of our vitamin D from sunshine, but even if we do get outside during the winter months the sun is not strong enough for our bodies to produce this vital vitamin. The life we lead now is very different to our ancestors who spent most of their time outside. Today most people work indoors, children play inside and if they do go outside wear high factor sunscreens in the summer.

Common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency

Throughout the year in the UK we are usually well covered by clothing except on the warmest days which stops our skin manufacturing vitamin D in response to sunlight. As a result, vitamin D deficiency is becoming all too common. Some of the most typical symptoms associated with a vitamin D deficiency can include:

  • Bone pain and muscle weakness
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment in adults
  • Asthma in children

Most recently research found that vitamin D supplementation alongside asthma medication was shown to significantly reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks.

How much sunlight do we need to produce enough vitamin D?

Well it’s complicated. There are many factors which influence the amount of vitamin D produced by each person. It is not quite as simple as spending 15 minutes in the sun with our hands and face exposed. The amount of sun we have in the UK between September and April is probably not enough to maintain our vitamin D levels throughout the winter.

The type of skin you have will also influence vitamin D production as pale skin with less melanin produces vitamin D more quickly. Your age will influence your vitamin D levels as the older you are the more difficult it is for the sin to manufacture vitamin D.

Spending long periods of time outside with mores kin exposed gives more of a chance of producing enough vitamin D but even then on a cloudy day or with the sun low in the sky as in the winter months we will struggle.

Do you need a vitamin D supplement?

Public Health England have now recommended that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU each day. However, this is the recommended level to prevent deficiency but to achieve optimum health certain individuals may need higher doses.

A good place to start is to have a vitamin D test to see what your current level is. This can be done through your GP or privately with a simple, low cost, finger prick blood test. Supplements with vitamin D3 are best as they are more effective at maintaining optimum blood levels of vitamin D.

Foods to increase your vitamin D intake

While sun exposure and vitamin D supplements can help, you can also increase your consumption naturally by eating foods rich in the nutrient. Here’s my top 5 recommendations for Vitamin-D rich foods:

  • Salmon – half a fillet of salmon can have more than twice the recommended dose of vitamin D
  • Tuna – a serving of tuna has more than one-third of a daily dose
  • Fortified milk – fortified milk has about one-fifth a day’s worth of vitamin D
  • Fortified cereal – different cereal types vary so check the label
  • Eggs- two large eggs have roughly one-tenth of a daily dose of vitamin D

Contact Susie Alderson, a qualified Nutritional and wellbeing specialist, for advice and help with your diet and lifestyle issues. Susie is registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) and is a member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).