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Who should consider taking Vitamin D supplements?

The UK government announced this week that free vitamin D supplements will be offered to the most vulnerable this winter. When the subject of supplements comes up, I often hear “they’re a waste of money, if I eat a healthy and varied diet then why would I need to take supplements?”. Sometimes this is true, but the reality is that very few people are actually getting the recommended daily intake of all of the many vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimum health, and with regards to vitamin D our main source is actually the sun! In this day and age, most of us spend a huge amount of time indoors and during wintertime especially most of us are not getting enough sunlight to absorb sufficient quantities of Vitamin D. It’s important to know that glass blocks out the UV rays needed to make Vitamin D so even if you sit by a sunny window, it isn’t going to help! In fact, it’s estimated that globally around 1 billion people could be deficient in Vitamin D!

How does Vitamin D help to keep us healthy?

Vitamin D is used by the body to regulate calcium levels which helps with the development of bones. Without enough Vitamin D we make ourselves vulnerable to issues such as rickets (in children), osteoporosis, osteomalacia and poorly formed enamel of the teeth. As older women in particular are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, it is important that they keep an eye on both their Vitamin D and Calcium levels by having regular check ups and take supplements if recommended to do so by their GP.

The reason Vitamin D is being offered to the vulnerable this winter is because it is also believed that it could help protect against Coronavirus due to it’s role in enhancing the immune system. Studies have found that Vitamin D receptors are found on most cells in the immune system, meaning those cells use Vitamin D to work efficiently. However, there isn't currently enough evidence to support that taking a Vitamin D supplement will prevent or cure Coronavirus and more studies need to be done to find out how important it really is to the immune system.

Where can we get Vitamin D from naturally?

80-90% of the bodies vitamin D stores comes from sunlight which is synthesised by the skin and stored in the body’s cells until it is needed. As we age however, the body becomes much less efficient at this process, meaning Vitamin D stores become depleted more quickly. The colour of your skin can also affect how much Vitamin D you can make because the darker your skin is the less sunlight it absorbs. This is where a supplement is good because it eliminates the need for synthetization of sunlight into Vitamin D.

So where else can you get Vitamin D from other than the sun? There are few dietary sources of Vitamin D but it is found in small amounts in the following foods; egg yolk, fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals and spreads, full fat dairy products, oily fish such as salmon, mushrooms and liver. As you can see there are very few plant-based sources of Vitamin D so those following a plant-based diet should try to get outside as often as possible during the winter or consider a supplement.

If you are concerned about your vitamin and mineral intake you can always ask your GP for a blood test. It is also important to always check with your GP before starting to take any form of supplement, especially if you take prescribed medication.

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