We absorb vitamin D mainly from the sun and without it, it can make us ill. Vitamin D deficiency is a major problem, especially in the UK where sun exposure is rather limited to around two months of the year. In the past, vitamin D deficiency was linked with rickets, but recently it’s become evident that a number of other conditions can manifest including muscle weakness and osteoporosis. Pregnant women are at risk of their babies being born with serious health conditions if they are vitamin D deficient.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
general feeling of being unwell
muscle weakness and
pain when bones are under pressure.
Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, which means that serious health conditions such as rickets can develop without warning. Evidence also suggests that those who live furthest from the equator are at higher risk of developing muscular sclerosis, due to lack of sun exposure. Scotland has the highest rates of MS in the world with around 10,000 sufferers.
What can I do to increase my vitamin D?
There are certain foods that contain vitamin D and these include:
Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals
It’s also important to make time to go outside whenever possible especially in the winter when daylight hours are short. But for people who are housebound, taking a daily dose of vitamin D in the form of supplements is important. Vitamin D supplements should also be taken by pregnant and breastfeeding women and given to babies and children up to the age of five, in the form of drops.
There is a risk, however, of taking too much vitamin D over a long period of time. No more than 0.025mg a day is recommended because excess vitamin D can damage the kidneys and soften and weaken bones. It’s also not advisable to spend too much time in the sun because of the risks of skin cancer.
Getting the right amount of vitamin D is a fine balance but generally speaking, people with a healthy diet rich in foods such as oily fish, who spend time outside every day, should be getting the right amount.
Written by Ruth Tongue