The government urges you to take supplements during lockdown.
We all know that vitamin D is vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles as well as a whole host of other benefits. But if you adhere to a strict vegan diet, stay out of the sun (which we'll likely be doing more of for the foreseeable) or have dark skin, you may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency - and according to experts, it's more common than we think and more vital than ever that we top out levels up right now.
But why is it such a vital vitamin? And how do you know if you're deficient? We chat with certified nutritionist Franziska Spritzler, founder of Diet Doctor, to find out everything we need to know about the vital vitamin.
What are the benefits of vitamin D
According to Franziska, vitamin D is crucial for overall health. "It plays important roles in maintaining a healthy immune system and protecting against disease. It enhances calcium absorption and is crucial for maintaining strong bones," she says. As well as that, vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with infections, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases including multiple sclerosis.
Causes of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency has been found in 80 per cent of Covid-19 patients in a 2020 study of people who tested positive for Coronavirus. As part of the new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, it was found that of all the patients, 82.2 percent were deficient in vitamin D; men had lower vitamin D levels than women.
Vitamin D is that the body can't create it itself, the main source of it coming from direct sunlight on the skin. And given most of us aren't getting as much sun exposure as we need, many of us are falling short in our vitamin D reserves, especially when you take into account that it’s winter and we’re locked down.
"No sun exposure is a major contributor to vitamin D deficiency, and people in areas with little sunshine are at the greatest risk."
Vitamin D deficiency is more common in those with darker skin, as the melanin prevents high absorption from the sun. Other causes of Vitamin D deficiency include a strictly vegan diet, as most foods containing high levels of Vitamin D are from animal sources.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Brittle hair and nails
- Mouth ulcers and bleeding gums
- Dandruff and scaly patches of skin
- Muscle weakness
- Bone pain
- Foods containing vitamin D
Aside from the sunshine, you can get vitamin D from food - mainly eggs, milk, oily fish (particularly salmon), red meat and some fortified foods like certain cereals. Other than that, it’s possible to take vitamin D supplements including Cod Liver Oil and Vitamin D tablets.
Vitamin d supplements
“I think vitamin D supplementation is important, particularly given the latest government advice and for those who have been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, especially if they are unable to increase their sun exposure to bring levels up to the optimal range,” says Franziska.
In an attempt to combat deficiency, Public Health England (PHE) urges the nation to supplement vitamin D every day during the ‘stay home’ periods with 10 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D - not just those at-risk of deficiency, and including children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and older people.
Supplements often express their vitamin D content in terms of International Units (IU). 1 microgram of vitamin D is equal to 40 IU, so 10 micrograms of vitamin D is equal to 400 IU. This should be sufficient for most people, unless you are particularly at risk of deficiency. To avoid taking too much vitamin D, do not take more than 4,000 IU per day. Children should not take more than 2000 IU per day, and babies under one year should not exceed 1000 IU.
What are the side effects of too much vitamin D?
Too much vitamin D, also known as vitamin D toxicity, is very rare but can occur when taking too many supplements. Some potential signs include fatigue, forgetfulness, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, constipation and diarrhoea, however, there is little definitive evidence on it.
This originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Lottie Winter