The Jewish Chronicle - - Life / Food -

Vi­ta­min D is one of those things which, when I was at med­i­cal school (only a decade ago), no one was re­ally talk­ing about, but now comes up reg­u­larly in con­ver­sa­tions with pa­tients at my surgery.

It is im­por­tant for form­ing and main­tain­ing healthy bones, and there­fore par­tic­u­larly vi­tal in preg­nant women and chil­dren. Re­cent re­search has sug­gested it is es­sen­tial for a healthy im­mune sys­tem and may also be pro­tec­tive against cer­tain can­cers.

The prob­lem with vi­ta­min D is that it comes from the sun­shine, a com­mod­ity sadly lack­ing in the UK for most of the year. Eighty per cent of it comes from UVB light on our skin. This causes a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem in win­ter when we are ex­posed to very lit­tle UVB ra­di­a­tion.

But in­ter­est­ingly, in­hab­i­tants of coun­tries such as Is­rael and Australia, soaked in sun all year round, are also suf­fer­ing de­fi­cien­cies: peo­ple there are so com­mit­ted to wear­ing sun­block, they also block the vi­ta­min D-mak­ing rays. So we in chill­ier climes don’t need to feel too sorry for our­selves.

There are very few foods that con­tain vi­ta­min D. Liver, oily fish and egg yolk are good nat­u­ral sources. By far the best nat­u­ral source is sun­dried mush­rooms, but these are not a com­mon sight on your av­er­age din­ner plate. Mush­rooms con­tain a pre­cur­sor to vi­ta­min D and when they are sun-dried they make large quan­ti­ties of it.

For the body to pro­duce enough vi­ta­min D, you need to be out­side be­tween April and Septem­ber, for 15 min­utes three times a week with your hands, arms and face un­cov­ered. Then you can put your sun­block on.

Vi­ta­min D de­fi­ciency causes vague symp­toms of tired­ness, aches and pains, mus­cle pains or mus­cle weak­ness, or bone pain in the back or legs. It is eas­ily di­ag­nosed on a blood test.

The treat­ment is vi­ta­min D sup­ple­ments, which your doc­tor will pre­scribe or rec­om­mend. There are dif­fer­ent regimes de­pend­ing on how low your lev­els are and whether or not your cal­cium lev­els are nor­mal.

The high-strength cap­sules avail­able of­ten con­tain high lev­els of cal­cium or vi­ta­min A as well, which means they may not be ap­pro­pri­ate for ev­ery­one (par­tic­u­larly if you are preg­nant)


North African dishes make for a colour­ful Mi­mouna ta­ble

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