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Should we start taking Vitamin D
now summer is over?

September 2017

Couple under a coat in the rain

It seems to get worse as we get older...that flat miserable feeling that the lovely summer months are now in the past and all we can look forward to is months of dark damp weather.

Apart from becoming depressed, another real problem that can come with the arrival of autumn and winter is a lack of vitamin D. This is an essential vitamin that we produce naturally when our skin is exposed to the sun. Once produced, the vitamin then moves into our bloodstream where it is transported to our liver to be converted and used in a number of vital functions to keep our bodies healthy.

Vitamin D is especially important because it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, vital for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles. There is also emerging evidence of its role in preventing asthma, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D is also thought to help defend the body against microbial invaders and to play a part in many other activities within the body.

Many people are now thought to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency especially during the British winter months. As we age, we are even more likely to lack this vital vitamin not just because of reduced exposure to sunshine. Our skin becomes thinner, we often have a decreased dietary intake and these, plus impaired intestinal absorption and other changes in our bodies can make it more difficult to make and use vitamin D properly.

A government commissioned report says that the recommended levels of vitamin D are 10 micrograms a day. When there is not enough sunlight to produce this level, diet can help. Foods such as oily fish, liver, red meat and egg yolks all contain useful quantities of vitamin D.

However, eating well may not be enough. The department of health is recommending most people should be taking a daily supplement containing 10 mcg of vitamin D during autumn and winter.

They are especially recommending a supplement for people who aren’t outdoors often during winter and for people with darker skins.

However, their advice is that adults “should” consider taking a daily supplement. What does that mean? 

Public Health England says that as they don’t know who is getting enough sunlight exposure to make vitamin D, the dietary recommendation of 10 micrograms (400IU) a day covers everyone. Even if you are also eating food fortified with vitamin D, it seems these are only small amounts so unlikely to cause any problems.

However, high intakes of vitamin D for prolonged periods can be dangerous and it is important any supplements don’t provide more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day.

Most readily available supplements contain vitamin D3 and this is thought to be slightly more effective than vitamin D2. However D3 is derived from lamb’s wool, and D2 is vegan, so that can influence some people’s choices.

While vitamin D supplements are usually taken in tablets, they are also available as drops, or through a spray or injection.

It would be good to be able to have a blood test before we make a decision to take a vitamin D supplement every day, but because this is not cost effective it is not generally available. Also, because supplements of vitamin D won’t cause any harm in sensible doses, the current recommendation for everyone to consider taking vitamin D throughout the winter makes quite a lot of sense.

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