This blog comes from Charlotte Lucas, our nutritional advisor. Charlotte is a qualified pharmacist with over 25 years experience and is completing her MSc in Nutritional Medicine. Passionate about lifestyle medicine and empowering individuals to take charge of their health, Charlotte is our guest blogger this month to help our visitors understand the important role that Vitamin D plays in helping us stay healthy as the cooler weather settles in.
As the fading summer sun gives way to autumn’s golden hues focussing on health and wellbeing has never has been more important. In these strange COVID times, ensuring adequate nutrient intake is essential and, as winter 2020 approaches, vitamin D is the nutrient of note.
Vitamin D, often referred to as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’ is unique amongst vitamins. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D through the action of UVB rays on our skin, which is great during the warmer weather when we tend to expose large areas of skin. However, roll on autumn and winter and it is a different matter. The UV light is poor and we wrap ourselves up against the elements or opt to stay indoors. During these times we must rely on foods and supplements to avoid deficiency especially if you have darker skin. (1).
What are the benefits of vitamin D?
Vitamin D is essential to overall health. It plays a vital role in musculoskeletal health, is involved in cell growth, immune function and reducing inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a whole host of conditions, including autoimmune disease, hair loss, diabetes and cancer. (2,3)
Because it’s fat-soluble vitamin D can be stored in our bodies for up to 3-4 weeks. I’m a firm believer in the food first approach but vitamin D is an exception. Many foods contain vitamin D (including fish and in particular herring, salmon and mackerel, eggs and fortified cereals ) but it’s really tricky to obtain sufficient through diet alone.
What is current UK guidance?
Vitamin D supplementation is seen as an effective way to prevent deficiency. About 40% of the UK population are deficient and it’s now recommended that the whole population would benefit from additional supplementation. (1) Based on evidence from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an intake of 10mcg per day (400iu/day ) is now recommended for the UK population aged 4.
If you’ve been found to have a severe vitamin D deficiency however, high dose supplementation (100mcg or 4000iu) for a short period to boost levels may be beneficial but this regime should be always be overseen by a healthcare professional. (4) Do not take more than 4000iu of vitamin D as it could be harmful. (5)
The consequences of too much vitamin D
The world of nutritional supplements can be a tricky one to navigate. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry where testing, standards and claims are highly regulated, the dietary supplements industry is not held to account in the same way. Therefore, care needs to be taken when making choices.
Multivitamin or high dose preparations may on the surface look like a great idea but beware. My years as an NHS prescribing advisor and community pharmacist have taught me to always be cautious and conscientious about what you take. Too much vitamin D can cause excessive calcium to build up in the body which may affect kidneys, heart and bones. All too often I have seen the overuse of supplements being the cause of ill health. More does not mean better and if you’re currently taking a multi-vitamin product check the label. You may already be getting sufficient. Interestingly, excessive doses never occur with sun exposure or diet, only through supplementation.
Choosing vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D3 (the form to take) is available in many different preparations including tablets, drops, sprays and chewable products making them accessible for almost everyone. Many supplements derive their active ingredient from lanolin so if you’re vegan look out for vegan-friendly lichen derived products.
Although research is on-going it is believed that doses below 2000iu daily for a UK adult appear safe. The Lamberts Vitamin D range stocked by Christos is a reputable brand held in many UK pharmacies and has a wide variety of formulations available to suit everyone’s needs. Always follow UK guidance and if you are in any doubt speak to a professional who can advise you on what supplement to take and provide you with any symptoms you should look out for.
So as we head into what will be a highly challenging season, as well as following government guidance on mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing, add a daily vitamin D supplement to your ‘health toolbox’ and stay as safe and well as possible this winter.
Nutritionist, pharmacist and health coach.
If you would like to make an appointment to discuss nutrition and how it may be impacting your overall health, please get in touch.
1. Schöttker B, Jorde R, Peasey A, Thorand B, Jansen EHJM, De Groot L, et al. Vitamin D and mortality: Meta-analysis of individual participant data from a large consortium of cohort studies from Europe and the United States. BMJ. 2014 Jun 17;348.
2. SACN vitamin D and health report - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2018 Oct 9]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-vitamin-d-and-health-report
3. Vitamin D — Health Professional Fact Sheet [Internet]. [cited 2018 Nov 3]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
4. Vitamin D deficiency in adults - treatment and prevention | Topics A to Z | CKS | NICE [Internet]. [cited 2020 Oct 6]. Available from: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/vitamin-d-deficiency-in-adults-treatment-prevention/
5. Vitamins and minerals - Vitamin D - NHS [Internet]. [cited 2018 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/