It would appear that there is now widespread deficiency of Vitamin D which is adversely affecting our health in our number of ways.
So why has this come to light now (excuse the pun)?
The answer is due to diet, sunlight and a return of rickets. As a baby in the 60’s I was put out in a pram most of the year, with the exception of frost (!) and as a child I would happily be outside nearly all summer without sun cream. I not saying this is safe now, but I don’t remember getting burnt (apart from the summer of ’76 when we all got a bit toasted). This enabled me to happily absorb enough vitamin D to store for the winter months.
However, our children and teens – termed Generation X, are more likely to be playing with technology than playing in the sun, and when they do venture out, the eagerness of parents to lather with sunscreens is often more suited to an Australian climate.
So what are the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency? Well because Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, the obvious ones are poor bone formation – rickets, osteoporosis and brittle bones, but these show when the damage has been done. Vitamin D and calcium is important to the body in many other ways. Muscles need it to move, for example, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Together with calcium and magnesium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body and can prevent cell over-growth.
How do we get it? The best source is the action of sunlight on the skin, but it has to be relatively strong and on exposed skin, so sitting out in early spring or late autumn may not be enough. However if you sunbathe with no cloud cover for around 10-15 mins per day you could be getting 10-15,000 IU. The RDA for Vitamin D is 200 – 400 IU (which most health professionals would agree is conservative) – a good Vitamin D3 supplement will contain around 2000 IU per day, with a safe upper limit of 4000 IU per day. Check with a health professional or nutritional consultant for recommended amounts per age.
There are small amounts in the diet:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are among the best sources.
- Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide small amounts.
- Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and to some brands of orange juice, yogurt, spreads, and soy beverages; check the labels.
Who else is at risk?
- Those with black or brown skin
- People who cover their skin due to religion
- Older people who cover up when they go out
- Institutionalised people
- Pregnant women
- Those who use lots of sunscreen
- Breastfed infants, since human milk is a poor source.
- Obese people, because body fat binds to some vitamin D and prevents it from getting into the blood.
- People who have poor absorption such a coeliacs and those with Crohns
So what should we do? Sunbathe sensibly avoiding the hottest part of the day exposing some skin for 8-15 minutes per day on sunny summer days, depending on how fair skinned you are. If you are worried about babies burning, you may prefer to supplement with Vitamin D3 drops or D3 Melts (nutri.co.uk) – check with myself or a health professional for dosage.
Eat oily fish 2/3 times a week along with full fat milk and egg yolks.
If you think you are deficient (most people are), get yourself tested. Some GPs will do it, especially if you are one of the at-risk people described above. Otherwise, Birmingham City Hospital offer a finger prick blood test pack which can be carried out in the comfort of your own home for £25. Go to http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk/testpack.html or call 0121 507 4278, their office is open from 09.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday.
Always check with your Doctor if you are taking prescribed medication.