Vitamin D - aka the sunshine vitamin, is formed by the action of sunlight on your skin. In the summer, we should be able to get the vitamin D we need from direct sunlight and a healthy diet. But in the winter I supplement to maintain my vitamin D levels and potentially you should too, why?
Vitamin D plays a key role in calcium absorption, essential for bone health, and can improve muscle strength and repair. Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels supports your immune function and help to reduce the risk of illness. It can also help reduce some PMS symptoms, improve energy levels and mood. Many of us are deficient or have low levels and don't know it. Mainly because the symptoms are subtle, non-specific and could be vitamin D related or something else. Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include:
Frequent illnesses - especially colds, bronchitis and flu. Vitamin D plays an important role in keeping your immune system functioning well and strong.
Fatigue and tiredness - low levels of vitamin D in the blood can cause fatigue, headaches and low energy. Supplementation of vitamin D has to drastically improve or remove symptoms. People often assume fatigue is iron related, when actually it can be vitamin D.
Bone and / or back pain - vitamin d plays an important role in bone health, including through improving your body's absorption of calcium which helps to keep bones strong. Studies have shown a strong correlation between bone pain and back pain (latter particularly in older women) and low vitamin D levels.
Depression - studies show a strong link between depression and low vitamin D levels. Supplementing has resulted in improved mood.
Slow wound healing - vitamin d plays a role controlling inflammation and fighting infection, and low levels of vitamin D can slow healing processes down.
Bone loss - vitamin D plays a key role in calcium absorptions and bone development. Vitamin D is important for preserving bone mass as you get older - not just calcium.
Muscle pain - there is a strong link between chronic muscle plain and low blood levels of vitamin D, thought to be due to the interaction between vitamin D and pain-sensing nerve cells.
So how do you get enough vitamin D?
In the summer, expose your arms and legs to the sun in order to synthesise and maintain adequate vitamin D levels. You only need 15-20 mins to get enough. Then cover up or apply sun cream to protect your skin from damage.
The primary source of vitamin D is direct exposure to sunlight but small amounts are also found in foods such as salmon, beef, lamb, mushrooms and egg yolks. Other foods have vitamin D added to them such as fortified breakfast cereals, milk, fruit juices and breads. However, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone so a combo of sunlight and healthy diet is best.
But in the winter, or if your exposure to sunlight is limited (including covering up your skin when outdoors or working a lot indoors), supplementing is a good idea. All my family take a supplement. The NHS guide is that EVERYONE should have 10 micrograms a day during autumn and winter. And no more than 100 micrograms. (children no more than 50mcg). Personally, I take 25mcg a day in the late autumn / winter. As we're approaching autumn now it might be time to stock up on some vitamin D, particularly if you think you experience any of the symptoms listed above. Plus you can always get your blood levels tested to find out your true levels and supplement accordingly.