Vitamin D deficiency is very common – especially among those of us who go months with barely any sun (literally all of us right now). In fact, the UK government says around 25% of teenagers and adults in the country have low levels of vitamin D.
There are few food sources of vitamin D, and sun exposure can be unreliable – particularly at this time of year. The risk is even greater for those with darker skin tones, those who cover more skin (either with clothing or SPF products), and those who consume little to no animal products.
But don’t fret – we got you! Vitamin D abundance is within reach for all. It’s all about making a conscious effort – especially during these gloomy winter months!
What is Vitamin D?
Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D actually functions like a hormone. It plays an important role: helping your body absorb calcium to support your bones, teeth, and muscles.
Your body makes it naturally from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Luckily for us, it’s also found in certain foods such as oily fish and fortified products. That being said, it’s very difficult to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone.
The recommended daily intake is around 400–800 IU, but many experts say we should ideally be getting even more than that.
Vitamin D deficiency: What are the symptoms?
- Weak immune system – Vitamin D helps keep your immune system strong to fight illness and infection. If you are frequently getting colds or infections, a vitamin D boost may get you back to your old self.
- Fatigue – Feeling tired can have many causes, but if you can’t seem to get your mojo back and feel exhausted and heavy-limbed throughout the day, vitamin D deficiency may be worth considering.
- Low mood – The winter weather can make you feel low in more ways than one as the vitamin actually plays an important role in brain function. As a result, people with low vitamin D are at a much greater risk of mental or mood disorders. If you tend to feel down at this time of year, don’t just put it down to seasonal depression! Although SAD is real, and the symptoms are similar, your low mood may well be caused by vitamin D deficiency.
- Slow healing – If your cuts and wounds tend to linger for much longer than they should, this is also a sign that your vitamin D levels are too low. Vitamin D also plays a role in controlling inflammation, which is important for proper healing.
- Hormone imbalance – As mentioned previously, vitamin D behaves more like a hormone than like other vitamins. As such, too little of the good stuff can completely throw off your natural hormone balance. Not sure how to know if your hormones are in sync or out of whack? We already got you covered.
- Achy muscles or bones – Since vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining bone density and muscle strength by improving your body’s absorption of calcium, achy bones, muscles, or lower back pain may be another warning sign your vitamin D levels are slipping.
How can I get more Vitamin D?
- Sun, sun, sun: That’s right. This is the most natural way to boost your vitamin D levels. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing and should always take care when sunbathing. Just getting around 20-30 minutes a day of sun exposure on the skin is enough to maintain a healthy level. But remember – the darker your natural skin tone, the more sun exposure you need to get your dose, since like a natural SPF, the melanin blocks out some of those rays.
- Food and drink: When sunshine is in short supply, we must look elsewhere. Most vitamin D-containing foods are animal-derived – oily fish and egg yolks, for example. But this doesn’t mean that vegans must go without! Most types of milk and yoghurt – dairy or otherwise – are fortified with vitamin D, as well as some fruit juices and cereals. You can also get your fix from mushrooms, such as porcini or shiitake – especially if they have been sun-dried. Just remember that whatever the source, vitamin D is not absorbed as efficiently when taken through food, and we often can’t get enough from diet alone.
- Supplements: Since we can’t always count on the sun or our diet, taking a daily vitamin D supplement is a life-saver for many. During the winter months, even if you do get some of this elusive vitamin in your diet or through your skin, it may be worth considering supplementing as well to hedge your bets.
The bottom line
Unless you’ve just got back from a tropical holiday where you consumed copious amounts of salmon and poached eggs every day (it’s alright for some!), you could probably do with a little vitamin D boost right now.
The only surefire way to know how your level is looking is to pop in with your GP and request a blood test. But even if you don’t get tested, making an effort to increase your intake or taking a daily supplement most likely won’t do any harm.
But don’t overdo it! Very high levels of vitamin D cause other health problems. This is near-impossible from food or sunlight, so as long as you’re only taking a regular supplement once a day, you should get your summer glow back in no time!