We know vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. But the benefits don’t stop there. There’s been a steady stream of research indicating that the ‘sunshine vitamin’ provides a host of other health benefits including boosting the immune system, preventing a range of cancers, protecting against multiple sclerosis, preventing rheumatoid arthritis, and acting as an anti-depressant. Wow – that’s quite some list. So it’s worth making sure that we are getting enough.
In the summer months our bodies can make vitamin D from being outdoors in sunlight. But from the end of September through to April the sun in the UK isn’t strong enough for our skin to synthesise vitamin D. So if we want to keep our vitamin D levels up we need to do so through eating the right food and/or taking supplements. The government recommends we have 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day to stay healthy. Here’s how we can achieve that:
1. Eating foods rich in vitamin D Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna are great sources of vitamin D (tinned is as good as fresh). It's also found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and fat spreads and in egg yolks, red meat and liver. However getting the recommended amount of vitamin D from food alone could be tricky. You would need to eat a salmon fillet or ten egg yolks a day to reach the government’s recommended 10mcg. Plus according to BBC 2’s Trust me I’m a doctor if you cook oily fish in oil, due to the fat soluable nature of vitamin D, some of it can leach into the cooking oil and be lost. Michael Mosley and his team recommend baking or steaming the fish instead.
2. Supplements You can buy both sprays and tablets but watch out as the dosage level varies. It can be dangerous to take too much vitamin D (current NHS advice is not to take more than 100 micrograms a day).
3. Heading south Ok so this might be a little extreme but geography plays a big part in our ability to synthesise vitamin D. The closer to the equator you are the stronger the sun’s UVB rays are – and it’s these rays that trigger the skin to make vitamin D. So if you were needing that excuse to head south…
You can find out your vitamin D levels through a blood test. You might be able to get this done at your GP surgery. If not there’s a good home testing kit available – it’s a finger prick blood spot test from an NHS laboratory. I’ve used the kit and I was very impressed with the clear instructions and prompt results.