Vitamin D has hit the headlines again with reports in the Daily Mail, Guardian and BBC about the importance of adequate vitamin D as a coronavirus lifesaver. It is quite a claim but health chiefs are urgently calling for a review of what is becoming compelling evidence. Read on to find out why vitamin D is so important for health and why many in the UK are likely to have low levels.
In the UK it is thought the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is about 30%, the number of people with ‘sub-optimal’ levels hasn’t been quantified but is likely to be even more widespread. When your levels are low, the systems in the body that need vitamin D may well be below par. Research has established that vitamin D is needed for normal bones and teeth, muscle function and immune function. People living in northern latitudes (like the UK) generally have low vitamin D levels, especially during winter and if spending a lot of time indoors. Some people also need more: the darker your natural skin colour the harder it is to make vitamin D and as you get older your ability to make vitamin D declines.
Vitamin D is not only important for bone health, but it also contributes to normal immune function. A recent report in the BMJ has suggested that vitamin D (along with eating well, maintaining vitamin C levels and regular exercise) all have a positive impact on immune health. Our immune system is very finely tuned: you don’t want it to under or over-perform. Either of these will have a negative effect on our health and researchers have found in studies that vitamin D helps keep the balance right. If we have optimum levels of vitamin D in our bodies, our immune system will work well. One of the knock on effects of low vitamin D has been higher rates of colds and flu.
There are a few vitamin D food sources so the main way we get vitamin D is to be out in the sunshine. Perfect if you live in a sunny climate, but in the UK we are at a disadvantage! The sun is only strong enough to make vitamin D on our skin between March and October. To make enough we need to be outside regularly in summer. Unfortunately unreliable British summers, covering up your skin and slapping on the sunscreen will reduce the amount produced!
Sometimes the best way to make sure you are getting enough is to supplement. In fact, because of the lockdown, Public Health England are recommending everyone takes a supplement. Vitamin D sprays are a great option for those who don’t like capsules, like young children and the elderly. Or try vitamin D capsules, a dose of 2000iu is an easy way to top up levels.