Vitamin D is essential to maintaining good overall health, but Brits may be more at risk of a deficiency due to the lack of sunlight in autumn and winter1. Find out how you can keep your levels topped up and avoid a deficiency.
Why is vitamin D important?
Vitamin D keeps our teeth, bones and muscles healthy by absorbing and regulating the calcium and phosphate we get from our diet. If your body doesn’t produce enough vitamin D, a deficiency can occur and cause a range of bone and muscle-related problems2.
Signs you may be lacking vitamin D
Roughly one in five people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D3. The main source is from sunlight on our skin, but with little sun during autumn and winter, our levels can suffer.
It can be tricky to know if you lack vitamin D because the symptoms are often subtle or put down to other things. Common signs of a vitamin D deficiency you can look out for include:
- Bone discomfort or pain (often throbbing) in lower back, pelvis, and legs
- Impaired physical function
- Muscle aches and weakness, usually most noticeable in the quadriceps and glutei, and can result in difficulty in rising from a seated position or a waddling gait
- Symmetric lower back pain
- Chronic widespread pain4
A lack of vitamin D in children can mean they’ll develop rickets, a condition which causes permanent deformities to bones, weakened muscles and reduced growth.
Adults with low levels of vitamin D can develop osteoporosis or ostemalacia, a softening of the bones which causes bone pain and muscle weakness5.
How to get more vitamin D
Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun, specifically the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays6.
It’s possible to get enough in the UK between March and September by going outdoors and wearing anything that exposes your skin to the sun. This is why vitamin D is often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. In other words, vitamin D is more readily available to us from sunlight than any other source.
But between October and March, winter sun doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation, so getting enough vitamin D is harder. During these times there are other ways you can make sure you get your vitamin D:
- From food
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as egg yolks and red meat all contain levels of vitamin D. It’s also found in some fortified products such as breakfast cereal and yogurts. The amount of vitamin D varies between each product, and it’s not possible to get a sufficient amount of our recommended intake of vitamin D from just our diet.
- From supplements
Taking a daily supplement is the most straightforward way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. It’s now recommended that adults and children over the age of one take 10mcg of vitamin D a day, especially during the winter months . You can buy supplements from most chemists and supermarkets. If you’re unsure about which dose to buy, chat to your doctor about the right dose for you.
Who needs vitamin D?
Some groups of people are more at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, and it’s recommended that they take vitamin D supplements all year round.
- People whose skin has little or no exposure to the sun, e.g. those who live in care homes or that cover their skin when they go outside
- People with dark skin, e.g. African, African-Caribbean or South African backgrounds
- Children aged between 1-4 years old
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