Vitamin D - Sunshine in a Bottle?
As the winter days draw in and darken, you may be dreaming wistfully back to all the sunshine we’ve had this year. Not only is sunshine good for our spirits and our gardens, but the UV light from the sun activates the Vitamin D in our skin. It then circulates around the body and does all sorts of important jobs, like helping to absorb calcium for strong, healthy bones, teeth and muscles, as well as helping to regulate the immune system.
Some recent media coverage on Vitamin D has even suggested that it might be effective in preventing or fighting off respiratory illnesses such as flu and COVID-19. At present the link is a little tenuous, as the research available to date is patchy, but hopefully results of bigger studies will be coming soon so watch this space!
Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to several chronic health problems including allergies, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and even depression. Staying indoors, covering up and even having dark skin puts people at further risk of being Vitamin D deficient. This year most of us have been spending more time indoors than usual, and as winter approaches, it will be even harder to meet our quota because between October and March, we are too far north for the sun to activate the Vitamin D in our skin.
Isn’t a healthy diet enough?
For most other nutrients, yes, but not for Vitamin D. It’s naturally in some foods like egg yolks and oily fish but normal intakes of these foods won’t give us enough. Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, like plant milks and margarines, but it’s the inactive D2 version, and it’s not present in high-enough concentrations. For example, you would need to eat almost 7 spoonfuls of margarine every day, to get a full dose…. YUCK! If you are a vegan it may be tempting to think your fortified plant milks and cereals are adequate, but again most have only the inactive D2 version.
Public Health England issued guidance in 2016 recommending everyone take supplemental vitamin D in the autumn and winter (but all year, if you have limited sun exposure and/or dark skin). If you choose to do one more healthy thing this winter, pick up some supplemental Vitamin D. It’s a cheap and easy win.
So what Vitamin D dose should you be looking for?
It’s the same dose for breastfed babies* through to the elderly, and whether you’re male, female, pregnant or breastfeeding - 10µg (400 IU) of Vitamin D3 for everyone in your family (unless, of course, you’re on a prescribed dose). You can even get supplemental vegan Vitamin D3 derived from lichen or algae, but remember it’s important to read labels for the active D3 form. You can also find Vitamin D in multivitamins, but watch out! Many do not have the right type or dose so check with your pharmacist before you buy.
This winter might be a very dark winter; a little bottle of sunshine could go a long way!
*infant formula is fortified with vitamin D