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Vitamin D - are you getting enough?

Around 10 million people in England are estimated to have low vitamin D levels making them risk health problems. In particular vitamin D status in many young children and older adults is lower than it should be.

Why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D plays a key role in muscular - skeletal health along with calcium. Vitamin D and its partner calcium, are needed in the body to keep bones and teeth healthy.

What happens if you don’t get enough vitamin D?

Not having enough Vitamin D impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus which can leads to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain and tenderness as a result of a condition called osteomalacia in adults.

There may also be an implication of low vitamin D status in bone loss, muscle weakness and falls and fragility fractures in older people. These are important public health issues in terms of morbidity, quality of life and costs to health services in the UK.

How does the body get vitamin D?

There are two sources of vitamin D: exposure to sunlight which enables Vitamin D to be made naturally in the skin, and diet. Making vitamin D in the skin is the main source of vitamin D for most people.

Where is vitamin D in the diet?

Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, eggs, fortified cereals and margarine, are the main dietary sources of vitamin D. In the UK, the law states that margarine must be fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D is also often voluntarily added to reduced fat spreads. Oat Drink contains vitamin D. There are few naturally rich food sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin D and sunlight

Most vitamin D is obtained through the action of sunlight on our skin during the summer months. The latitude and strength of the sun in the UK means that the skin can only make vitamin D between 11am and 3pm, during the months of April to October. However if a good body store is built up by September most people will have enough to last them until the following year.

Who is at risk from vitamin D deficiency?

People at risk include:

  • Children and babies
  • Pregnant women
  • People with darker skin, including many people from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds. Nearly 75% of adults from Asian or African and Caribbean backgrounds may have low vitamin D levels.
  • Over-65s
  • People who don't get much exposure to the sun, such as those who cover up their skin for most of the year
  • People who are housebound.

How much Vitamin D is enough?

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 to last them through the year. A short period of time in the sun means about 10 to 15 minutes is enough for most lighter-skinned people. This is less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn.

Should I take a vitamin D supplement?

The latest recommendations for taking a vitamin D supplement are that pregnant and lactating women, young children and people aged 65 years and over should take 10µg vitamin D daily.

Professor Susan Jebb, who was also involved in developing the government's recent guidance on vitamin D said "It is really important health professionals are aware of the problem of vitamin D deficiency and that everyone understands that for those at risk of deficiency, a good diet alone will not solve the issue.

Reference

Draft Vitamin D and Health report Scientific consultation: 22 July to 23 September 2015 available www.gov.uk