Vitamin D has been in the news a lot recently, with the government recommending that everyone should receive at least 10μg/400iu of vitamin D per day, especially in autumn and winter — but just how essential is it?
As a fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin D is essential for human health, helping to maintain our immune system, bone health and muscle function. While it is found in food like fish, butter and eggs, in the UK, we actually only receive an average of 126iu of vitamin D per day from our diets — significantly less than the government recommendation.
Our main source of vitamin D is the sun. When sun hits our skin, our bodies are able to produce vitamin D using cholesterol and UVB light. However, some factors can interfere with this synthesis, including:
- A lack of exposure to sunlight — naturally, as sunlight plays a key part in vitamin D production, levels drop when exposure is limited. This could be through seasonal changes, like in winter for example, living in darker places or regular use of sunscreen, which prevents the sun’s rays from hitting the skin.
- Your age — the older you are, the less able you are to create vitamin D from sun exposure.
- Skin pigmentation — if you have darker skin, you’ll need greater levels of sun exposure than those with lighter skin in order to produce the same level of vitamin D.
A combination of the above factors can lead to many people taking vitamin D supplements to effectively top-up their levels. But why are so many people focused on vitamin D — what benefits can it bring?
There have been a number of studies carried out to establish the specific advantages of vitamin D. A study by the British Medical Journal found that daily or weekly vitamin D supplementation can protect against respiratory chest infections — including those dreaded colds and flu! The vitamin can help you recover from these infections quicker too, but not if you supplement in one-off doses.
In addition, studies have shown that vitamin D has the potential to lower the risk of colorectal cancer with minimal risk. It also works to protect neurones and helps their maintenance, which has been found to have a positive effect on mental health. One trial found that vitamin D reduced the depressive symptoms associated with major depressive disorder (MDD), for example.
Clearly, vitamin D plays a hugely important role within the body. If you fear your current levels of vitamin D are insufficient or deficient, it’s worth considering using vitamin D supplements to boost your levels and improve your overall wellbeing.