Winter: do you need to take a vitamin D supplement?

September 12, 2019 8:31 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Way back in the summer, we wrote a blog: Special free offer on Vitamin D! It was all so nice and easy back then – in the UK, we can generally obtain most of our vitamin D needs from sunlight from around March to October. That’s because we absorb vitamin D in two ways: through our skin and through our gut. In summer, so long as there’s a reasonable period of bright, sunny weather, we simply need to get outside and absorb the sunlight, for about 15 minutes per day, to obtain our full complement.

Winter sun: will it give you enough vitamin D?

It’s important that we do so: a shortage of vitamin D can lead to bone tenderness and deformities (rickets in children; osteomalacia in adults), along with problems with teeth and gums, lethargy, tiredness, greater susceptibility to illness and depression. That’s because vitamin D is the element that helps us absorb calcium and phosphate in our bodies, and we need those to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

But what happens after October?

Well, while there’s nothing more welcome than sun on a winter’s day, it seems that there’s not much point stripping off to expose yourself to it. The winter sun simply doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for our skins to be able to make vitamin D from it.

The reason for this is all to do with the angle of the sun. In the winter months, the sun is not at the right angle to get UV light to the earth. Even if we spend time in bright sunlight, we’re not going to be able to synthesise an appreciable amount of vitamin D from the sunlight.

There’s a simple test: look at your shadow. If it’s the same height or shorter than you, you’re likely to be getting enough sun to make vitamin D. But if it’s longer than you, then sadly, you’re not.

If you’re living fairly far north in the UK, you might find this shadow phenomenon happening before October and lasting past March. Further south, you’ll have a larger window of opportunity to soak up the rays (though not literally a window – you can’t absorb vitamin D from sunlight passing through glass!).

Can you stockpile vitamin D?

Maybe your memories of that late July heatwave are still bright, however? Could you possibly have stored up enough vitamin D in those few weeks to see you through the rest of the year? The answer is probably not – though you can, to an extent, stockpile this element. If you’re overweight or obese, however, stockpiling (store-and-release) of vitamin D is harder than for other people – and if you’re past middle-age, have darker skin, or generally prefer to be covered up, you might well have found it harder to absorb this vitamin even on the hottest of days – and thus have no stores to draw upon.

The upshot is that for many of us, and for all of us in the UK in the long-shadow months, we’re going to need some non-sun sources to obtain enough vitamin D. Naturally Good Food is, as our business name suggests, most interested in natural options – so let’s start by looking at the most natural source of non-sun vitamin D: food.

Vitamin D from food?

As it happens, not many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D (though some foods, such as powdered baby milk, cereals and margarine are fortified with it). However, you can get a reasonable amount of it from cod liver oil, eggs and oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel. Fancy a lovely kedgeree or salade niçoise, combining fish and eggs, for a good burst of this vitamin?

Don’t forget the overall importance of a balanced diet. To properly absorb vitamin D, we need other ‘cofactors’, which include vitamin K2, magnesium, zinc and boron. By making sure our diets in general cover all the bases, we protect ourselves against all kinds of nutritional deficiencies.

What about vitamin D from a sun lamp?

You can synthesise vitamin D from the light emitted from a sun lamp and, if you buy the right one, from a light therapy box, vitamin D lamp or tanning bed. (Beware of fake versions, however, that have no special properties whatsoever.) However, it is highly recommended that you do nothing of the sort! There’s a substantial increase in the risk of cancer with sun lamps and tanning beds: they are not a safe way of obtaining this vitamin.

What about taking a supplement?

You’ll only need to develop one persistent cold this winter, or express a sinking feeling about the darkness of the early mornings, for someone to tell you that what you really need is a vitamin D supplement. Indeed, the NHS recommends that everyone in the UK takes one in the winter.

According to the NHS, everyone over the age of 5 years in the UK should takes a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D (but no more than this: taking too much over a long period of time will cause an excess of calcium to build up in the body, weakening the bones and damaging organs).

This expert, however, disagrees that it’s necessary at all, asserting that most of us manage absolutely fine with what we get from the summer sun and from food.

It’s up to you. Some people do have more difficulty than others getting enough vitamin D in the summer. And some undoubtedly find the winter months more trying than others. There are blood tests that can establish your level of vitamin D – more, informally, you’ll know yourself whether your health and happiness generally hold up well over the winter months. But whether you choose to take a supplement or not, don’t forget that eating healthily, getting plenty of outdoor sunshine, and taking proper, regular exercise, are the foundations of good health – whatever the season.

Naturally Good Reads v2

 

 

 

 

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This post was written by Yzanne

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