Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s made in our skin in response to sunlight, vitamin D plays a key role in keeping us in good health. Not only does it support our immune system so we can fight off viruses more easily, it regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, both important in maintaining healthy bones. Nutritionist Marilyn Glenville says it also has a role in breast and bowel cancer prevention, as well as conditions as diverse as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, dementia and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
How do we get it?
Vitamin D is found naturally in a small number of foods, like oily fish, eggs and mushrooms, but it is difficult to get the recommended amount from food alone.
“Your body does not expect to get much vitamin D from food,” says Dr Glenville, “because it is made by the exposure of skin to sunlight.”
It’s not just lockdown that can affect our vitamin D levels.
People in the UK often don’t get enough during the winter months, so Public Health England recommends that everyone over the age of one should supplement with400 IU/day (10 micrograms), especially between October and March.
Here’s how you can boost your levels
We may be on lockdown, but we can make the most of our permitted time outdoors.
Spend 10-15 minutes every day with your face, neck, legs and arms exposed to the sun without sunscreen on, because it blocks the UV rays needed in the production of vitamin D.
Avoid doing this in the midday sun to make sure you don’t burn, and if you’re staying out longer than 15 minutes, apply sunscreen.
Haven’t got a garden?
Open a window that’s in direct sunlight and soak in the sun that way – make sure you open the window though, because the rays can’t penetrate the skin through glass.
Eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as:
Oily fish – 100g of grilled salmon contains 284 IU of vitamin D, and 100g of tinned pilchards contains 560 IU.
Eggs – the yolk of one egg contains about 20 IU of vitamin D.
Mushrooms – shiitake mushrooms contain 18 IU per 100g.
Interestingly, like humans, mushrooms produce more vitamin D when their skin is exposed to the sun – so it’s worth leaving your mushrooms out in direct sunlight.
Cereals and plant milks that are fortified with vitamin D – instant Quaker Oats have 154 IU per packet, and Alpro almond milk has 30 IU per 100ml.
Often the easiest and safest way to get enough vitamin D is via a supplement.
Dr Glenville says, “When selecting a vitamin D supplement, choose one where the form of vitamin D is D3 (cholecalciferol), not D2 (ergocalciferol), because D3 is 87 per cent more effective at raising and maintaining vitamin D levels.”
Try one of these:
NHP’s Vitamin D3 Support (£13.77 for 30ml, naturalhealthpractice.com) is a liquid supplement that can be put under the tongue for quick absorption. Suitable for children and adults.
Vitamin D Complex by Link Nutrition (£11.95 for 30 capsules, linknutrition.com) contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 per capsule alongside vitamin D-rich shiitake mushroom and vitamin K1 to help maintain a healthy immune system.
Vitamin D3 400 IU (£4.99 for 100 capsules, holland andbarrett.com) contain 400 IU of vitamin D per tablet.
Do SAD lamps work?
People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often benefit from spending time in front of a daylight lamp because it emulates the light of the sun, which keeps our body’s circadian rhythms in sync and boosts mood.
But light boxes or SAD lamps won’t boost your vitamin D levels because, for safety reasons, they don’t produce the UV light needed to create the vitamin.
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD is the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health. Visit marilynglenville.com.
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