Focus on Vitamin D
Dr Angela Rai from The London General Practice, discusses the benefits and importance of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy teeth and bones and helps regulate calcium levels in the body. The consequences of vitamin D deficiency are cardiomyopathy (a condition which affects the heart muscle) and seizures in infants; poor growth and rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults which may present as bone pain. There is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D may protect against heart disease, cancer and diabetes but this is currently inconclusive.
ARE YOU AT RISK OF VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY?
• Pregnant and breast feeding women
• Infants and adolescents
• Those with reduced sun exposure – countries in the northern latitude including the UK winter season
• Those with darker skin as they need more sunshine to make Vitamin D.
• If you wear clothing that covers most of your skin.
• People with limited diets including vegetarians and vegans
“Sunshine is the main source of vitamin D, as our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. It is important to follow safe sun exposure and not allow your skin to redden or burn and use sun protection if you plan to be out longer in the sun. It has been recommended to have between five and 30 minutes of sun exposure to your unprotected face, arms, legs or back between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. two to three times every week to produce enough Vitamin D for your body. Your body can’t make Vitamin D if you are indoors by a sunny window as UVB light can’t get through the glass, so it’s important to be outdoors.
In the UK winter months, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB to make adequate Vitamin D, so we rely on food source or supplements like oily fish, eggs, fortified yoghurts, cereals and infant formula milk.
Those considered to be at risk can take Vitamin D supplements. A daily dose of 400 units is considered to be safe for most age groups. It is recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women take 400 units daily.
If there are medical concerns, further testing can be performed by a simple blood test. Those that are deficient can be prescribed higher treatment doses of Vitamin D, although medical advice must be followed as too much Vitamin D can cause toxicity.
Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of Vitamin D, without unduly increasing risks of skin cancer.
Your GP can provide you with further personalised guidance should you have concerns.”