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Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is known as the sunshine vitamin because the sun is the body’s main source of this vitamin.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. It is needed to help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy by helping to regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body. It also plays a role in the immune system (1) – during the spring and summer months we get most of our Vitamin D from sun exposure – UVB light from the sun converts a protein called 7-DHC into Vitamin D within the body, however, during the autumn/winter months (Sept-Mar) the sun is not strong enough in the UK for this process to occur, we therefore need to ensure we get enough from our diet.

Vitamin D Rich Foods:

  • oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • red meat
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals

While we can get Vitamin D from some foods it is unlikely that we will get enough from food alone during the winter, as such the NHS recommends(3) that everyone should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (10μg) of the vitamin Sept-Mar, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. This may be particularly important if your diet does not include the types of food mentioned above.

Vitamin D Deficiency:

Vitamin D deficiency typically manifests as lower back pain and muscle ache or weakness and may result in conditions such as bone disease (known as Osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children). Some groups of people are considered particularly at risk of Vitamin D deficiency and are advised to supplement 10μg all year round, these groups include(2):

  • those that are not often outdoors – for example, if they’re frail or housebound
  • those that are in an institution like a care home
  • those that usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
  • those that darker skin tones may also not make enough vitamin D from sunlight.
  • individuals with chronic liver(4) or kidney(5) conditions may have an impaired ability to convert Vitamin D into its active form – for these people it is advised to discuss vitamin levels with their doctor

Vitamin D insufficiency refers to low levels of the vitamin that don’t meet deficiency levels – it is estimated that insufficiency effects 50% of the global population(6). People who have insufficient levels during the summer may be at risk of experiencing deficiency during the winter.

Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic many people were been spending more time indoors than normal, it therefore may be worth considering supplementing all year until you return to your normal habits/movement to help protect the health of your bones and muscles.

Supplement dosage explained:

  • A microgram is 1,000,000 times smaller than a gram (g) and 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg).
  • A microgram may be represented by the abbreviation mcg or the Greek symbol μ (Mu) followed by the letter g (μg).
  • The NHS and Public Health England recommend everyone over the age of 1 require 10μg a day, during winter months we should consider getting this from a supplement as we are unable to make it from sunlight at this time of year. Babies under 1 require 8.5-10μg a day – please speak to your health advisor about how to achieve this.
  • Some supplements use International Units (IU) rather than μg. 40 IU is the equivalent of 1μg of Vitamin D – therefore 400 UI is equal to 10μg

In conclusion, Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that plays a significant role in maintaining good health and wellbeing. Adequate levels can improve bone health, boost the immune system, and even reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain types of cancer

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