Are you getting enough vitamin D?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


29 April 2020

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D has a number of important roles in the body, including immune regulation and nerve transmission. It's also thought to influence mood and certain skin conditions.

Perhaps most well-known, however, is the positive impact vitamin D can have on the health of the bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium and controls the amount of phosphate in the body, the latter of which is essential for bone growth, muscle function and energy production.

On top of this, there are lots of areas that vitamin D has the potential to benefit that are only just being researched. A 2016 study, for example, concluded that vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties, meaning it could help stop the growth of sinus tissue that occurs in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis and nasal polyps.1

A 2017 study also found that vitamin D supplements could help to prevent acute respiratory tract infections, particularly amongst those who were deficient in vitamin D to begin with.2 Researchers also noted that the protective effects offered by vitamin D were most prominent when supplements were taken daily or weekly rather than more widely spaced out.

However, it is important to note that high supplementation with vitamin D is not recommended, as it has no added benefits to offer and can actually be quite detrimental for our health (as I'll discuss in a little more detail below). One particular piece of research involving healthy children aged 1 to 5 years, for example, found that high vitamin D supplementation daily did not reduce overall wintertime upper respiratory tract infections.3 Therefore, these findings do not support the routine use of high-dose vitamin D supplements.

Who’s at risk of a vitamin D deficiency?

At the moment, anyone self-isolating at home could be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency because they're only able to spend a limited amount of time, if any, out in the sunshine that is the body's key source of this nutrient.

Anyone who must cover up frequently, those with darker skin, and anyone using sun block regularly may also be at risk of becoming deficient in vitamin D.

It is recommended we expose our skin to the sun for short periods without sun block, to allow it to make some vitamin D. The key is "short", however, and do not allow your skin to burn – this definitely isn't necessary to produce vitamin D!

How to get vitamin D from the sun

The best time to soak up vitamin D from the sun is between the hours of 11am and 2pm when the sun is highest in the sky. Therefore, if possible, this is the best time to get in your one hour of exercise during lockdown.

If you aren't able to get outside at all at the moment, position your desk/armchair/exercise bike in an area that gets a lot of light, such as a conservatory or top floor bedroom. Although this might not provide as much vitamin D as being outside, it will still offer a little.

It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun for each individual to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's requirements, as this varies depending on skin tone. Paler skin allows for quicker vitamin D production, for example, and may only require 15 minutes of midday exposure to sunlight to produce vitamin D. For darker skin tones, the time required in the sun could increase up to a few hours.

Top tip: You should always be careful not to let your skin burn. Sunscreen can be used after a short time spent in the sun, to help prevent this.

Did you know?

  • Both the colour of your skin and how much skin you expose has an influence on how much D you make from the sun.
  • Exposing larger areas of skin, such as your back, enables you to produce more vitamin D than simply exposing your face or arms.
  • We can produce up to 25,000IU of vitamin D in an extended outdoor session with sufficient skin exposure.

What kind of vitamin D do I need?

We get vitamin D3 from the sun, though many supplements contain D3 as well, because it is thought to be more helpful than vitamin D2 in sustaining vitamin D levels longer term.4

Vitamin D2 was originally the main vegan form of vitamin D, because it is generally produced by plants like mushrooms. D3, on the other hand, was taken from lanolin (the wool of sheep); but it can now be acquired from algae, meaning vegan varieties are available.

The body deals with vitamin D2 and D3 in very similar ways.

How much vitamin D do we need?

In April 2020 Public Health England released new recommendations regarding vitamin D. They now advise that everyone undergoing lockdown should supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D daily, even if they are not in an at-risk category for deficiency. This is because they believe people may not be getting enough sunlight exposure during the lockdown.

Food sources of vitamin D

There are a small number of foods that provide vitamin D, and it's important to note that most offer only a limited dose. However, for anyone that can't get outside at all, or for those who don't have access to a garden, they will provide a vitamin D top-up.

  • Oily fish including tuna, mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines
  • Fish liver oils
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Offal, especially liver
  • Plus, many foods are now fortified with vitamin D, including cereals, dairy products and fruit juices.

Unfortunately, there are very few vegan food sources of vitamin D; so it is particularly important that this group consider taking a supplement to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D.

How do you know if you’re deficient in vitamin D?

There are a few symptoms that can become apparent if you have low vitamin D levels, such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, low mood, low bone mineral density, and slow wound healing.

There is also research to show that vitamin D deficiency makes it more likely that you'll get more severe allergic responses.5

Should I take a vitamin D supplement?

As mentioned, Public Health England have recently published recommendations for everyone take 400 IU of vitamin D daily during the lockdown period.

Taking a high dose of vitamin D is not advisable, despite that fact you may be spending less time in the sunshine at the moment. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it can be stored up in the body and cause problems.

So, to help top up your vitamin D you could try Balance Mineral Drink. This drink contains 200 UI per daily dose, as well as other nutrients like magnesium and potassium. This means you can keep your vitamin D levels up, without the risk of getting too much.


Top up your vitamin D intake


Balance Mineral Drink is a daily drink that can help top up your intake of vitamin D and other essential nutrients including magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc:
✔ Contains 200iu of vitamin D3 per sachet
✔ Easily absorbed essential nutrients
✔ Helps release energy and reduces tiredness and fatigue
✔ Supports normal muscle function and bone maintenance.

"Pleasant taste for some of your daily minerals."

Read more customer reviews

Can you get too much vitamin D?

If vitamin D intake is extreme, it can be problematic. It can increase the absorption of calcium during digestion, for example, which can go on to affect the function of the kidneys and heart. Too much vitamin D can also be a factor in headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, palpitations and fatigue.

This is why it is very important that you don't consume a vitamin D supplement that's far stronger than the recommended dose of vitamin D, unless prescribed by your doctor. Surprisingly enough, there are plenty of super-high supplements on the market!

A Birmingham lab offering vitamin D blood tests found that out of a sample of 14,806 people, 2.5% had vitamin D levels within the toxic level.6 It stated the internet, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the biggest source of these high vitamin D supplements.

The good thing to note is that it's almost impossible to get too much vitamin D from the sun so, if you are spending more time in your garden as a result of lockdown, you don't need to worry. Just be careful not to allow your skin to burn!

Top tip: Many people take a vitamin D supplement without realising that their multivitamin already contains vitamin D, as does their cod liver oil supplement. To avoid getting too much vitamin D, check your supplements to determine exactly what they contain.

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Are you getting enough vitamin D?