Vitamin D – are you getting enough?
What is Vitamin D and why is it important?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is both a nutrient we eat and a hormone our bodies make.
It is important because it helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorous, both of which are essential for building bone, teeth and for muscle health.
Studies have shown that this essential vitamin can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation.
Many of the body’s organs and tissues have receptors for Vitamin D, suggesting important roles beyond bone health, to which scientists are actively investigating other possible functions.
How do we get Vitamin D?
Your body makes Vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in your skin into an active form of the vitamin calciferol. Hence the reason it is called the “sunshine” vitamin.
It isn’t found naturally in many foods, but reliable sources include:
- Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals
For most people, the best way to get enough Vitamin D is by taking a supplement because it is hard to eat enough through food.
In the UK, from late March/early April to the end of September, most of us should be able to make all the Vitamin D we need from sunlight and a balanced diet. However between October and early March we do not make enough of this vitamin from sunlight.
Government advice is that everyone should consider taking a daily supplement during the autumn and winter.
How much Vitamin D do I need?
The NHS website states that children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Babies up to the age of 1 year need 8.5 to 10 micrograms a day.
A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg). Sometimes the amount is expressed as International Units (IU). 1 microgram is equal to 40IU, so 10 micrograms is equal to 400 IU.
Who is at risk from Vitamin D deficiency?
Several factors can affect the ability to be able to get adequate Vitamin D from sunlight alone.
You may be less likely to absorb enough of this vitamin from the sun if you:
- Spend most of your time indoors
- Live in an area with high pollution
- Live in a big city where buildings block sunlight
- Have darker skin – the higher the levels of melanin, the less of this vitamin your skin can absorb
- Usually wear clothes that cover up most of the skin when outdoors
- Use sunscreen – whilst very important to prevent skin cancer, it also decreases this vitamins production
What happens if I take too much?
Taking too many supplements over an extended period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia). This can weaken the bones and cause damage to the kidneys and heart.
If you choose to take a supplement, 10 micrograms a day will be enough for most people.
On a final note………
The role of Vitamin D in disease prevention is a popular area of research, but clear answers about the benefit of taking amounts beyond the recommended daily allowance (RDA) are not conclusive. However observational studies see a strong connection with lower rates of certain diseases in populations that live in sunnier climates.
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