6 things that you need to know about Vitamin D
In 2017, Vitamin D was in the spotlight! Health organisations that make and influence policy, those working with patients, and the media, were talking about it. This article includes 6 things, and one of them, is the most recent advice by Public Health England.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is needed to help regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. We need these nutrients to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
A lack of Vitamin D can lead to bone deformities, such as, rickets in children, and bone pain and tenderness as a result of a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
Where can we get Vitamin D from?
We can absorb Vitamin D from the sunlight from late March or April up to the end of September. However, between October and March we need to source Vitamin D from fortified foods, such as, fortified margarine, some breakfast cereals, fortified non-dairy milk, mushrooms and fortified non-dairy yoghurt.
We can also take supplements. Vitamin D supplements and drops containing Vitamin D (for under 5s) can be purchased in most pharmacies and supermarkets.
Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing the recommended amounts of Vitamin D.
What do we need to know about absorbing Vitamin D from the sun?
Between March and September, being out in the sun for short periods of time, ensuring that our forearms, hands or lower legs are exposed (and without sunscreen), may be enough. The best time for this is 11am to 3pm.
How long one should spend in the sun isn’t clear. What the body requires will be determined by the colour of our skin, and how much skin is uncovered. We need to make sure that we come out of the sun before our skin begins to turn red or burn.
Sitting indoors, near a window with the sunlight shining on you won’t help. The body needs Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which we can't absorb through glass.
How much Vitamin D do we need?
In their first year, babies need 8.5 to 10 micrograms (8.5-10mcg) of Vitamin D per day. After that, all the way through to adulthood, we need 10 micrograms (10mcg) of Vitamin D per day.
The amount mentioned above is no different for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or for those who are at risk of being deficient in Vitamin D. Those who are at risk of being deficient would include those with minimal exposure to sunshine, and people with dark skin.
What happens if we have too much Vitamin D?
Some people take supplements because they feel it's better to be sure that they have enough, than not. However, having too much Vitamin D over a long period of time can cause the body to absorb an excessive amount of calcium. If the body struggles to excrete this extra calcium, it can lead to hypercalcaemia i.e. high levels of calcium in the blood. This in turn can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.
If you choose to take Vitamin D supplements, 10mcg a day will be enough for most people.
What does the PHE (Public Health England) have to say about Vitamin D?
The most recent advice from the PHE is that adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of Vitamin D, especially during Autumn and Winter.
Individuals who have a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency, i.e. those with minimal exposure to sunshine and people with dark skin, are being advised to take a supplement all year round.
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