Vitamin D has long been known to help keep bones and teeth strong. However, there is a range of other health benefits that vitamin D provides including:
- Supporting the immune system
- Promoting brain and nervous system health
- Regulating insulin levels
- Keeping muscles healthy
- Supporting lung function and cardiovascular health
- Influencing the expression of genes involved in cancer development
Recent studies have also found that vitamin D could be an important factor in keeping the brain healthy and warding off cognitive decline.
Vitamin D is unusual because our bodies can synthesize it from sunlight. However, in winter, or if you spend a lot of time indoors, your body may not be able to make enough of the vitamin.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Muscle pain
- Bone pain
- Feeling less mentally sharp
Who is at risk from Vitamin D deficiency?
It is difficult for most people to get enough vitamin D from sunlight, especially in winter. Even in summer, using sunscreen and covering up means your body is less able to make the vitamin.
Certain people are at a higher risk of having a vitamin D deficiency and these include:
- People who spend a lot of time indoors
- Those who cover up most of their skin when outdoors
- Those who have dark skin
Also, Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be very common in older adults and may affect up to 90% of the elderly population. This is partly because older people lose some of their ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. It may also be because some older people are housebound so don’t get enough sunlight each day.
The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that you take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if you are in this group.
What should you do if you think you may have a vitamin D deficiency?
If you feel you may have a vitamin D deficiency, you should ask your doctor for a blood test.
The easiest way to ensure you get enough vitamin D is to take a supplement. Most people would benefit from taking 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day. Never take more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful.
To boost vitamin D, spend some time outdoors every day if possible. Ask your doctor if spending 10 -15 minutes outdoors without sunscreen would be safe for you. You cannot overdose on vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. However, you need to protect your skin if you are outside for long periods to reduce the risk of skin cancer
You can also get vitamin D from some foods including:
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
Vitamin D is essential for our health and has many health benefits so it is well worth ensuring that you are getting enough of this vital nutrient.