As the winter months roll in, the weather gets colder, the mornings are darker and most conversations start with a comment “I can’t believe how dark it is”. You might expect that we’d be used to bitter winters in the UK by now, however most of us are guilty of under preparing for Winter. Whether that is forgotten umbrellas, leaving waterproof coats at home or treading in a puddle in a pair of trainers – however there is one thing that 1 in 5 brits suffer from that often gets overlooked and that is low levels of Vitamin D.
Causes of Vitamin D deficiency
It has been surveyed that 20% of adults and 16% of children in the UK have low Vitamin D. There are a few reasons for this that are important to know to see if you may be at risk of low Vitamin D.
You don’t consume enough Vitamin D rich foods – people who follow strict diets such as a vegan diet have a higher probability of suffering from a lack of Vitamin D. Most natural sources of Vitamin D are from animal products, including fish and fish oils, egg yolk, fortified milk and beef liver.
You don’t get enough sunlight – the body makes Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, during the winter months it can be very tricky to get enough Vitamin D, even if you do go outside. When you wrap up warm to go outside very little of your skin is actually exposed and when sunlight is already in short supply, this means that you don’t get much Vitamin D even when you’re outdoors. On top of this as many people are currently working from home, most people will be spending more time in doors than what is recommended.
You have dark skin – The pigment melanin reduces the skin’s ability to make Vitamin D in response to sunlight.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is unique to most other vitamins as it functions almost like a hormone in the body, every single cell in your body has a receptor for it. It is recommended to have at least 400-800 UI daily. Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. All of these nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency
Getting sick often – one of the most important roles of Vitamin D is keeping your immune system strong so that it can fight off viruses and bacteria that cause illness. If you are finding you’re getting ill often, especially with colds and flus, low Vitamin D could be a contributing factor.
Fatigue and Tiredness – Excessive fatigue and tiredness may be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency. Taking supplements may help improve energy levels.
Bone and back pain – Vitamin D help maintain good bone health in a number of different ways, one of which is regulating the bodies absorption of calcium.
Depression – In review studies, researchers have linked Vitamin D deficiency to depression, particularly in older adults. In one analysis, 65% of the observational studies found a relationship between low blood levels and depression.
Bone loss – Particularly in elderly people low bone density is an indication that your bones have lost calcium and other minerals. This place elderly people at higher risks of bone fractures and breaks.
Hair loss – Hair loss may be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency in female-pattern hair loss or the autoimmune condition alopecia areata.
Muscle pain – There is a link between chronic pain and low blood levels of Vitamin D, which may be due to the interaction between the vitamin and pain-sensing nerve cells.
How to get Vitamin D in winter?
With all this in mind, one of the best ways to combat Vitamin D deficient is to be more aware of it. The more you’re aware of how easy it is to be deficient and the potential problems that can happen as a result of a deficiency, the more you’ll think about making sure you get enough Vitamin D.
Diet – As mentioned earlier Vitamin D is available in food, consuming oily fish like mackerel and salmon are a great way of improving Vitamin D levels. Liver, although requires an acquired taste is very rich in Vitamin D. Red meats like beef, dairy products like milk, egg and cheese. Finally, Vitamin D fortified cereals. Regular consumption of these products can go a long way to fighting deficiency.
Daily walks – Despite it being harder to get sunlight in the winter, it is still a great idea to go for a daily walk, not only for general well being but also for increasing your intake of Vitamin D.
Suppliments – The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that you take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D throughout the year if you:
- are not often outdoors – for example, if you’re frail or housebound
- are in an institution like a care home
- usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
Fish liver oil is a very rich source of Vitamin D taking one a day, taking a fish oil tablet is a very good way of getting Vitamin D.
In summary, the best way to ensure you receive enough Vitamin D during the winter months is by doing all of the above. Eating Vitamin D rich food, getting outdoors often and taking supplements. With this information we hope you have a healthy and happy winter.