We all know that vitamins play a huge role in keeping us healthy & supplements & multi-vitamins are part of the daily routine for lots of people. But how many of us can say we know the jobs (or even the names) of every vitamin & mineral vital to maintaining a healthy body?
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is particularly important at the moment when we’re perhaps getting less exposure to the outdoor world. So what is vitamin D? Why do we need it? And how can we top ourselves up if we think we’re not getting enough?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is needed to regulate the amount of calcium & phosphate in the body. It is vital to maintain healthy bones, teeth, skin & muscles healthy.
Signs you may have a Vitamin D deficiency
The symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency are often very subtle & may seem unconnected. However the impact of low vitamin D levels can be devastating & confusing for the individuals experiencing it.
Those who are considered more at risk of developing a deficiency are the following groups:
- The elderly
- People with dark skin
- The overweight or obese
- Those with a diet low in fish or dairy
- People who spend a large part of their time indoors
- Those who cover their skin or wear a high factor sun cream
The most common symptoms are:
- Developing illnesses, and infections often, especially colds or the flu. A low-functioning immune system is a sign of reduced vitamin D levels.
- Feeling tired/fatigued: Low levels of vitamin D in the blood can contribute to feelings of fatigue & tiredness to the point that quality of life is affected. Once the levels are brought back up to expected levels, studies show that energy levels recover quickly.
- Muscle, bone or back pain: Vitamin D improves the absorption of calcium into the bone so a lack of it can mean people experience pain severe enough to prevent them going about their normal routines. Bone density can also be affected by vitamin D levels.
- Low mood, depression & anxiety could all be signs that your vitamin D levels need a boost. Some studies have shown that taking supplements can ease symptoms of depression & anxiety & improve general mood.
- Slow healing wounds: Studies suggest that adequate levels of vitamin D in the body increases the production of compounds required for skin to heal after an injury, wound or surgery. It is also necessary for fighting inflammation & infection meaning that people with good levels of vitamin D tend to bounce back quicker from wounds and injuries.
- Hair loss, especially in women could be a sign of lower levels of vitamin D.
If you are experiencing these symptoms it is important to speak to your doctor. They may want to carry out a blood test and, depending on the results can prescribe a course of vitamin boosters if needed.
How to boost Vitamin D levels
- Spending time outdoors in sunlight is the easiest way to boost your vitamin D levels. The body creates its own vitamin D from sunlight on the skin.
- Foods such as oily fish, egg yolks, liver & red meat have naturally occurring levels of vitamin D
- Some foods are fortified with extra vitamin D to help further. Look our for labels on the packaging of cereals & spreads.
- A Vitamin D3 supplement might be a good idea for those who think they might be deficient. The recommended daily dose of Vitamin D is 10-20mcg (400-800 IU).
This NHS page is a good source of extra information about vitamin D.
Healthy Start is a great resource for anyone who is pregnant or has children under 4 & is on benefits – you may qualify for free dietary supplements for you or your children.
Too much of a good thing?
Taking too much vitamin D long term can cause your body problems too so it’s important to choose the correct dose. Too much vitamin D over a sustained period can cause a build up of calcium in the body which damages the kidneys & bones. For most people 10 micrograms per day will an adequate supplement and you should never take more than 100 micrograms per day.
Originally published for IP17 GNS whilst volunteering during lockdown.