Weak muscles? Frequent headaches? What could initially appear to be signs of lack of sleep, or something as simple as a busy working week could in fact be your body telling you that you’re deprived of the vital vitamin D!
It’s no secret that the UK population is significantly lacking in vitamin D, largely due to the sporadic sunshine we receive and our increasingly indoor lifestyles.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is essential for helping to help regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body. Therefore, it plays a key role in helping to maintain healthy bones, muscles and teeth. Vitamin D is necessary for a healthy functioning immune system and is believed to play important roles in our cardiovascular (heart) and cognitive (brain) function to name just a few of its important roles.
Low exposure and D-ficiency
Individuals with darker skin naturally produce less vitamin D, as the melanin in their skin provides more protection against UV rays. This means those with darker skin must spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as those with lighter skin.
Whilst many of us live increasingly indoor lives, some individuals have particularly low sun exposure. These include:
- Elderly people who are house bound or live in care homes
- Office workers who spend most of their day inside
- People who wear covering clothing for cultural and religious reasons
- Those with a disability that prevents them from getting outside regularly
- Those who work night shifts and sleep during the day
Vitamin D deficiency can present itself in a variety of symptoms, varying from ‘surface’ symptoms like muscle weakness, fatigue and frequent coughs and colds to ‘concealed’ symptoms such as osteoporosis and bone deformities.
Optimising Vitamin D Levels in those with low exposure
If you have low sun exposure or darker skin which could reduce your ability to produce vitamin D then it is especially important get outside as often as possible. Even small efforts during the winter months can make a big difference to your mood and vitamin D levels. If you work in an office, going for a walk on your lunch break is a step in the right direction. Planning more outside activities for your weekends can also help. A leisurely walk, run or bike ride when the weather permits will help maximise vitamin D exposure and go towards preventing your likelihood of deficiency.
You might also want to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement. Ideally, start by testing your vitamin D levels with a simple, affordable at home test kit like the one BetterYou distributes on behalf of the NHS. BetterYou can help you to determine vitamin D levels and provide advice on how best to optimise your levels, based on your results.
There are also ways in which you can easily and efficiently dose up on your daily requirement of vitamin D. Although it’s proven very difficult to intake the recommended daily allowance through food primarily, make sure you stock these foods in your fridge to top up your vitamin D levels:
- Fatty fish
According to the Institute of Medicine, 600IU of vitamin D is equivalent to their RDA and a 3-ounce portion of salmon fillet contains approximately 450.
Like humans, mushrooms have the ability to produce vitamin D when exposed to UV light. However, the conventional mushroom will often be produced in dark environments, as they don’t require sunlight to grow. The United States have been producing ultraviolet light grown ‘shrooms for a while now, but the UK have also caught onto this trick with M&S being one of the main chain of supermarkets to sell vitamin D fortified mushrooms.
- Full fat dairy products
Although popular belief is that opting for semi/skimmed dairy is the better health option, there are actually benefits for going full fat! Nutritionist Cassandra Barns says, “The fat can help us absorb vitamins - such as vitamin A and D – that are found in, or added to milk. These vitamins are fat soluble, so when there are only very small levels of fat in what we are eating, they won’t be absorbed as well as they can be when consumer with higher-fat foods.
Vitamin D Awareness Week (23-29 October 2017) encourages people to test their vitamin D levels and identify the common symptoms of deficiency.
Follow the conversation online using #VitaminDAwarenessWeek and @VDAW_UK