With shorter, colder days and a few more sniffles, warm sunny times may seem like a distant memory – but have you thought about how a lack of sun might affect your vitamin D levels? Research shows that at least 20% of us are deficient in vitamin D. Unfortunately for those of us in the UK, we can’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight alone between October through to March.
Why is it important
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for many different bodily processes, the key ones are:
1. Immune system: vitamin D supports your immune system to fight infection. Low vitamin D levels can decrease the effectiveness of your immune system, which may be one of the reasons why we tend to pick up bugs in the winter when our vitamin D levels may be lower.
2. Mineral absorption: vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and phosphate in the gut, which is needed for healthy teeth, bone and muscle. This is especially important if you are pregnant, recently had a child or are breastfeeding.
3. Mental health: vitamin D plays a role in activating the chemical messengers called neurotransmitter, which control how we feel. Ever wonder why you feel much better in the sun?
How much do you need?
· Babies under 1 need 8.5-10 micrograms per day.
· Babies over 1, children and adults (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) need 10,000 micrograms.
How do you make sure you and your family are getting enough?
1. Get out: during April – September aim to expose your skin to direct sunlight for 20-30 minutes (expose your arms too if you can).
2. Food: eat foods containing vitamin D, such as: oily fish (think SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring), eggs, meat, mushrooms exposed to sunlight, fortified milks (including formulas and non-dairy milk) and cereals. Although, it is tricky to get enough vitamin D through food alone.
3. Supplements: as it is not possible to get enough vitamin D from food and sunlight (in certain months) the Department of Health recommends:
· Breastfed babies from 0-1 year need 8.5-10 micrograms of vitamin D per day.
· Children aged 1-4 need 10 micrograms per day (if using fortified formula milk, check how much your child is drinking, if less than 500ml, you will need to supplement).
· Pregnant or breastfeeding women need 10 micrograms per day
· During October – March or for people who are not exposed to sufficient daylight (e.g. elderly who are not able to get outside easily or if your skin is covered in sunlight): children and adults need 10 micrograms per day.
· If you are of African, African Caribbean or south Asian descent, you may want to think about supplementing year-round as you may have difficulty producing enough vitamin D.
To help support your and your family’s immune system during the colder months and for bone, dental and muscle health, think about if you are getting enough vitamin D and if you need to supplement. If in doubt, talk to your GP to get your vitamin D levels checked or you can do this through a private test you do at home.
By Kristy Coleman
Registered nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC)