It’s vital to have adequate levels of vitamin D in our blood. From regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus to facilitating normal immune system function, vitamin D plays an important role.
It’s common knowledge that vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as for improved resistance to certain diseases. If our bodies don’t get enough vitamin D, we may be at risk of developing abnormalities such as soft or fragile bones.
The human body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. It’s also possible to absorb it through certain foods. However, how much vitamin D you actually need and how you go about getting it, isn’t always quite so clear.
We challenge a few of the common myths surrounding vitamin D to help you sort the facts from the fiction.
“Exposure to sunlight should be sufficient”
For some, the main source of vitamin D will derive from exposure to the sun. Human skin can produce large amounts of vitamin D when plenty of skin is exposed and the sun is high in the sky. In fact, the body is designed to get the vitamin D it needs in this way.
However, for those of us living in less sunny climes, it can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D to maintain the appropriate levels. Between October and April, the sun may simply not be strong enough. Even during the summer months, cloud cover can block the necessary UVB rays. This is further compounded by the use of sunscreen when the sun does shine. Of course, it’s vital to protect our skin from harmful UVA rays, but in doing so, we block the UVB rays which are necessary for vitamin D production. Dark skin pigmentation also plays its part in affecting vitamin D production. Darker skin requires prolonged exposure to the sun to produce the same levels as fairer skin.
Furthermore, lifestyle also affects the amount of time spent exposed to sunlight. Modern life often involves hours spent driving and working indoors, thus limiting our ability to quite literally, soak up the sun.
“The right foods are full of vitamin D”
From oily fish to eggs and milk, there are plenty of foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D. The sticking point for many of us, however, is having an accurate awareness of just how much of that food is required to maintain the right levels.
While oily fish does provide the best source of vitamin D, it isn’t necessarily a daily staple of many people’s diets. Where the fish comes from will also impact the level of vitamin D per portion. Wild fish will almost certainly contain considerably more vitamin D than its farmed equivalents.
Fortified foods have vitamin D added during production and while the consumption of such foods can increase vitamin D intake, it’s still unlikely that this will be sufficient to provide all of your daily vitamin D requirements.
“Only ‘at risk’ individuals require supplements”
The Department of Health has raised awareness of the risk of vitamin D deficiency amongst certain groups. It has made recommendations suggesting that children under 5 and adults over 65 should be using a vitamin D supplement all year round. The recommendation also applies to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, those who have little or no exposure to the sun and those with darker skin pigmentation.
However, the Government now recommends that everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements during the winter months. A report by Public Health England voiced concerns that sufficient production of vitamin D may not be achievable, at this time of the year, through diet alone. When sunlight is scarce, not enough vitamin D is produced through the summer months to maintain adequate levels throughout the winter too.
Enough Is Enough
A simple blood test can determine whether you have adequate levels of vitamin D. While tests can highlight those who are vitamin D deficient and may be at risk of developing certain conditions, merely having an adequate level of vitamin D won’t ensure robust health. As such, vitamin D may be better supplemented by means of tablets, capsules or liquids.
Simply taking a multivitamin, however, may not be enough. Many multivitamins contain low levels of vitamin D compared to what is required to reach an optimum level. With this in mind, a specially formulated vitamin D supplement may just be the best line of defence.