Are you getting enough Vitamin D?
As we come to the end of the summer months, it’s important to consider how the reduced exposure to sunlight can affect our health and Vitamin D levels. What with changes in lifestyle, hours spent indoors at the workplace and concerns about exposure to uv rays, the amount of sunshine we expose our skin to these days has reduced significantly. As a result, it seems that deficiency of this essential vitamin is on the rise and we really do need to be mindful about keeping our levels topped up.
The NHS gives the following guidelines on getting a good dose of Vitamin D from the sun:
How long should we spend in the sun? There isn’t one recommendation to suit everybody. This is because the amount of time you need to spend in the sun for your skin to make enough vitamin D depends on a number of things.
These include your skin type (for example, how dark your skin is or how easily you get sunburnt), the time of year and what time of day it is.
Short daily periods of sun exposure without sunscreen during the summer months (April to October) are enough for most people to make enough vitamin D. Evidence suggests that the most effective time of day for vitamin D production is between 11am and 3pm.
A short period in the sun means a matter of minutes – about 10 to 15 minutes for most people – and is less than the time it takes you to start going red or to burn. The larger the area of your skin that is exposed to sunlight, the more chance there is of making enough vitamin D before you start to burn.
People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
In the UK, our skin isn’t able to make vitamin D from winter sunlight (November to March) as the sunlight hasn’t got enough UVB (ultraviolet B) radiation. During the winter, we get vitamin D from our body’s stores and from food sources.
(Don’t forget, the longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater the risk of skin cancer. So remember to cover up or protect your skin before the amount of time it takes you to start to turn red or burn later on.)
Facts about Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fatty tissue.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Calcium and phosphate are two minerals that are essential for normal bone formation.
Throughout childhood, your body uses these minerals to produce bones. If you do not get enough calcium, or if your body does not absorb enough calcium from your diet, bone production and bone tissues may suffer.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in adults or rickets in children.
The body makes vitamin D when the skin is directly exposed to the sun. That is why it is often called the “sunshine” vitamin. Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way.
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. As a result, many foods are fortified with vitamin D. Fortified means that vitamins have been added to the food.
Vitamin D is found in the following foods: dairy products, cheese, butter cream, fortified milks (including soya, oat and rice milk), oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), oysters, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and margarine.
It can be very hard to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone. As a result, some people may need to take a vitamin D supplement if their are deficient.
The symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency:
Many people remain asymptomatic despite low levels of Vitamin D but here are the more common symptoms
- General muscle pain and weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Chronic pain
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Restless sleep
- Poor concentration
- Bladder problems
- Constipation or diarrhea
If you are concerned about Vitamin D deficiency you can have your levels tested through your GP or get advice from your nutritional therapist.