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:

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • 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
  • liver
  • 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.

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501367/

https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20100416/low-vitamin-d-level-tied-to-cognitive-decline#1

https://www.wlmht.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Vitamin-D-leaflet-A5-8pp.pdf