Vitamin D is an absolutely essential nutrient that plays a key role in the functioning of our bodies. Most of us know we need it. But where do we get it? Why do we need it? And should we supplement?
In this article, we’re going to touch on all these key points without any jargon.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that we need in order to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It also plays a key role in keeping our immune systems in tip top shape.
Vitamin D is unique in that the body can produce it naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, if you’re not exposed to too much sunshine (hello, Northern England), you’ll be pleased to know we can also get it from certain food sources.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
The amount of vitamin D you need depends very much on factors like age, gender and your overall health. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin D is as follows:
|Age Group||RDI for Vitamin D (IU/day)|
|Infants (0-12 months)||400-1000|
|Children (1-18 years)||600-1000|
|Adults (19-70 years)||600-800|
|Adults over 70 years||800-1000|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding women||600-800|
Do note that these are general guidelines and individual needs may vary. Some people may require higher doses of vitamin D, particularly those suffering from an existing deficiency or other underlying health conditions.
Where Do We Get Vitamin D From?
As mentioned earlier, the body can produce vitamin D naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Specifically, the skin produces vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB radiation.
However, for those of us who live in places where the sunshine feels as rare as a blue moon, simply exposing our skin to sunlight isn’t all that easy, is it?
We know that the amount of sunshine available to us is affected by factors such as latitude, the season where you are, the time of day, whether or not there is cloud cover and even your skin pigmentation.
For example, people living in northern latitudes may not be able to produce enough vitamin D during the winter months.
So, thankfully, we can also get vitamin D from certain food sources. Examples of vitamin D rich foods include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolks
- Mushrooms (if grown in UV light)
- Fortified foods (milk, cereal, orange juice)
What are the Symptoms of a Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency is a really common problem, particularly among people who live in countries that lie quite far north or who have limited sunshine exposure for other reasons.
The symptoms of a deficiency can vary but often include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle pain
- Bone pain
- Joint pain
- Hair loss
- Slow wound ad cut healing
A severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to a condition called rickets in children, which causes soft bones and skeletal deformities. In adults, severe deficiency can lead to osteomalacia, which causes weak bones, muscle weakness, and increased risk of fractures.
How Common is Vitamin D Deficiency?
Hugely common, particularly in countries further north. In fact, estimates suggest that up to half of the global population could be vitamin D deficient.
Certain groups of people are at higher risk of deficiency, including:
- People with limited sun exposure (e.g., those who live in northern latitudes, work indoors, or wear full-covering clothing)
- Older adults
- People with dark skin
- People with certain medical conditions (e.g., malabsorption disorders, liver or kidney disease)
- Vegans and vegetarians
Should You Take Vitamin D Supplements?
For some people, it is incredibly to obtain enough vitamin D through sunlight and food alone. In these cases, taking a vitamin D supplement is recommended.
In the UK, the NHS recommends 10 microgram vitamin D supplements for everyone over the age of 4 in the UK every day of the Autumn and Winter months.
Vitamin D is critical for muscles, bones and even a health immune system. But in the winter months or for those living in countries further north, getting enough of it can be tricky. So supplementation is recommended to avoid a deficiency.