Insufficient Vitamin D can lead to softened bones, potentially causing rickets in children and osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults. With Vitamin D coming from exposure to the sun, should you take Vitamin D supplements as the days shorten?
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate. Both of these help keep your bones strong. Therefore, maintaining the right level of Vitamin D can help minimise the chances of problems such as rickets, osteomalacia or osteoporosis. When your body has sufficient Vitamin D, you can absorb high levels of calcium but with low levels, you may only be able to absorb a quarter to a half of the normal amount.
The NHS tells us that there have also been other claims made about the benefits of Vitamin D such as reducing the risk of multiple sclerosis, lowering blood pressure, relieving the effects of asthma and even suggestions that it can reduce the chances of getting cancer.
Whatever the true answer about exactly how beneficial Vitamin D is, we already know that it is extremely valuable to us and that a shortage of Vitamin D can give us serious problems. Therefore, it is important to maintain our Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D comes from two sources, from the sun and from what we eat.
When the sun hits your exposed skin, your body produces Vitamin D. In a typical British summer, most of us will expose enough of our skin to the sun for long enough to maintain a healthy level of Vitamin D. But what about in the winter? There’s less sun and we are wrapped up to keep warm and less likely to expose our skin. It is estimated that the average person gets enough Vitamin D from the sun for only 5 months of the year. And those 5 months are the ones just ended. We’re going into the other 7 months now.
There is another source of Vitamin D and that is from our food. Some food, such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, etc) naturally contain Vitamin D and even eggs and mushrooms contain a little. Other foods (such as breakfast cereals) can have Vitamin D added to them. However, it can be hard to get sufficient Vitamin D from food alone. So, should you take a supplement?
While not having enough Vitamin D can be a problem for you, so can having too much. With too high a level of Vitamin D, your body can absorb too much calcium causing calcium deposits in the heart and lungs, kidney damage or stones and a range of other problems. However, cases of Vitamin D toxicity are rare and tend to apply to people who have been taking supplements above the recommended dosages for some months.
The current Department of Health recommended guidance for Vitamin D supplements is that people at risk should take supplements. This includes pregnant and breast-feeding women, babies and children under 5 years and adults over 65 years. You may also want to consider taking supplements if you have a darker skin (as the sun cannot penetrate your skin and create Vitamin D as efficiently) or if you have limited exposure to the sun. The recommended dosage is 10 micrograms for adults and 7-8.5 for babies and your children. However, please recognise that this should include any Vitamin D from fortified foods (eg infant formula). Also, please talk to your GP if you are considering taking Vitamin D supplements on a long-term basis.