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Vitamin D - to keep you healthy this winter

Winter is definitely here after the cold snap we have had this past week. I don't think we will ever get used to the shorter days and longer nights, and some days it feels like the sun barely rises at all! In the UK it’s not usual to go weeks without any sun at this time of year – which raises an important question – are you still getting enough vitamin D?

First of all let's talk about Vitamin D. It has a crucial role in the body – getting enough vitamin D is required for healthy bones and teeth. In children, being deficient in vitamin D can lead to a condition called rickets, most commonly characterised by bones which are weak and soft and can become deformed, leading to “bowlegs”.

In adults, low levels of vitamin D can increase your risk of osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. This makes you much more prone to breaking a bone, especially if you’re older. Those deficient in vitamin D also often report general aches and pains, feeling “under the weather” and, specifically a concern for us as chiropractors, bone and joint pain.

Reduced levels of Vitamin D have also been linked with weakened immune systems making it easier to catch those pesky coughs and colds going round this time of year. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D is unusual because it’s produced in your skin when you’re exposed to sunlight – while you can get vitamin D from food sources, in the summer you may well be able to make enough from safe and regular exposure to sunlight. 

In the UK there just isn’t enough sunshine around to allow you to make your own vitamin D as we move through autumn and winter. Even if we are lucky to get a crisp, sunny day, we may only be exposing our face to the sunlight!

family walking

Therefore, if you're not getting Vitamin D from other sources such as food, you may well be short on this essential Vitamin. It is recommended that everyone over 1-year-old take 10 micrograms (400 International Units) a day from October to March. Babies from birth to 1 year old should have a supplement in the form of vitamin D drops of 8.5 to 10 micrograms a day. Babies having 500 ml or more of formula milk per day do not need supplements, as formula milk already has vitamin D added.

Depending on your diet, you may be able to obtain vitamin D from what you eat – however, in most cases supplementation is a better option since few foods actually contain very much vitamin D.

Foods that do naturally contain a source of vitamin D include Oily fish (such as sardines, pilchards, herring, trout, tuna, salmon, mackerel and kippers), Egg yolk, red meat and liver.  Some foods also have vitamin D added – these often include margarine, cereals and baby formula, but even through these, it’s difficult to get enough. Supplements, by contrast, are relatively cheap and easily available.

However, don't go overboard! You can have too much of a good thing. The only way to know for sure what your vitamin D level is would be to take a formal test – there’s no way of judging without making a scientific assessment, however we do know that a lack of Vitamin D is very common – in the UK at least 1 in 5 people (adults and children) are short of Vitamin D, and this figure is probably higher in the winter.


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