VI­TA­MIN D Are you get­ting enough?

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De­spite its la­bel as the sun­shine vi­ta­min, you could be vi­ta­min D de­fi­cient even in sum­mer. But does it mat­ter? Well, yes, as its health ben­e­fits may ex­tend much fur­ther than healthy bones, teeth and mus­cles. ‘In the past 20 years, there’s been more and more re­ports that vi­ta­min D is im­por­tant to many as­pects of our health,’ ex­plains Pro­fes­sor Adrian Mar­tineau, spe­cial­ist in res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tion and im­mu­nity at Queen Mary Univer­sity of Lon­don.

But one in five adults have low vi­ta­min D lev­els, and a 2014 study found hospi­tal ad­mis­sions at­trib­uted to child­hood rick­ets were the high­est in Eng­land in five decades. While some groups, in­clud­ing preg­nant women and the el­derly, are more at risk of de­fi­ciency, for many of us it’s due to our in­door life­styles and where the UK is in re­la­tion to the equa­tor (where the sun is strong­est). Here’s how to safely in­crease your lev­els…


The gen­eral guid­ance for the UK is to spend 10-20 min­utes out­doors sev­eral times a week, with arms and face un­cov­ered and with­out sun­screen, be­tween April to Septem­ber. This is enough time to get the ben­e­fits be­fore ul­tra­vi­o­let rays trig­ger sun­burn, can­cer or skin age­ing. This varies de­pend­ing on the colour of your skin (darker skins need more ex­po­sure), the time of day (the sun is strong­est be­tween 11am-3pm) and how much skin you ex­pose.


Step­ping out­side isn’t enough ei­ther, as the way the sun’s rays hit the body gets tech­ni­cal. ‘Ver­ti­cal body ar­eas, such as legs and arms, re­ceive about 30-60% of the amount of rays that hit hor­i­zon­tal ar­eas, like shoul­ders and the head,’ ex­plains María An­to­nia Ser­rano, a sci­en­tist at the Polytech­nic Univer­sity of Va­len­cia, adding that ditch­ing tights will have less of an ef­fect than un­cov­er­ing shoul­ders.


You should also top up your vi­ta­min D lev­els with food. ‘Oily fish, egg yolks, beef liver and for­ti­fied milk are all rich in it, but they’re not enough,’ ex­plains Rhi­an­non Lam­bert, a Har­ley Street nu­tri­tion­ist. ‘How­ever, eat­ing a por­tion of salmon twice a week can help.’


The UK Gov­ern­ment’s Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Nutri­tion rec­om­mends ev­ery­one should aim to get 10mcg

(or 400IUS, which stands for In­ter­na­tional Units and is the mea­sure­ment you’re look­ing for on la­bels) a day. In spring and sum­mer, many peo­ple get that by fol­low­ing sun ex­po­sure guide­lines, but in win­ter we can’t make vi­ta­min D in our skin be­cause the sun isn’t strong enough, and it’s hard to get what you need from diet alone. It’s sug­gested that from Oc­to­ber to April, ev­ery­one should con­sider a daily 10mcg sup­ple­ment.

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