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Vitamin D Guide: How to Make Sure Your Family is Getting Enough

Did you know that around 1 in 5 of the UK population suffers from low levels of vitamin D? Or that around 50% of the global population struggles with a deficiency of this essential vitamin?


Here in the UK, it’s harder for us to get enough vitamin D during the winter months. This is why the UK government now recommends that all adults and children over the age of one take a supplement between September and March.


So, what exactly is vitamin D? How much of it do you and your family need? How do you spot a deficiency and how do you make sure you’re getting enough?


These are all the questions that we set out to answer in this guide to vitamin D.

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps regulate the calcium and phosphate levels in your body. This helps ensure that your bones, teeth and muscles are healthy and also helps protect your nervous system and your immune system.


It’s also known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it’s produced in your skin when exposed to sunlight, or by its scientific names: calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D), ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and calcidiol (25-hydroxyvitamin D).


Interestingly, vitamin D works very differently from other vitamins and behaves more like a hormone in our bodies, working in a three-way relationship with calcium and the parathyroid gland. The nutrient helps calcium to be absorbed from your gut into your bloodstream so it can nourish your body.


Benefits of vitamin D

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is essential for health and offers a range of powerful benefits which include:


●       Keeping your bones healthy. Most people have heard that vitamin D is essential for building strong and healthy bones. This is because it encourages your gut to absorb the calcium from your diet and ensures it can be used to grow strong and healthy bones.

●       Strengthening your muscles. Vitamin D also helps to build strong and healthy muscles. With sufficient levels of the vitamin, you’re less likely to struggle with muscle soreness and weakness and less likely to have falls as you get older.

●       Supporting your immune system. The vitamin also helps your body to fight off bacteria and viruses such as flu and coronavirus by supporting your immune system. This is especially important during the winter when our vitamin D levels are often low and seasonal bugs are circulating.

●       Keeping teeth and bones healthy. Because your teeth are a type of bone, getting enough vitamin D can also help keep your teeth healthy, whilst also reducing the risk of tooth decay and oral health problems.

●       Helping to fight back against depression. According to studies, vitamin D deficiencies increase our risk of suffering from depression and certain cognitive impairments.

What is a vitamin D deficiency?

A vitamin D deficiency happens when you don’t get enough to meet your body’s needs.


The current UK RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin D is 8.5-10 micrograms for children up to 1 year old and 10 micrograms for children, adults and pregnant or breastfeeding women.


If you or your family become deficient, you could suffer from various health problems that include rickets (a bone development problem that occurs in children and can lead to deformities) and bone problems such as pain, osteoporosis and osteomalacia.


Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency that you should watch out for include:

●       Tiredness

●       Aches and pains

●       Severe bone pain

●       Muscle pain and weakness

●       A general feeling of being ‘run down’ or unwell

●       Stress fractures in your legs, pelvis and hips

●       Poor immune system response


This is more likely if you’re:

●       Living in a colder climate such as the UK

●       Using sunscreen

●       Spending lots of time indoors

●       Living in a city where the buildings block the sunlight

●       Have darker skin (it’s harder for your body to absorb vitamin D from the sunlight)

●       Live in an area of high pollution

●       Suffer from a malabsorption condition such as celiac disease, IBS or inflammatory bowel disease


This makes it even more important to get enough vitamin D through adequate exposure to sunlight, through your diet and food supplements.


If you suspect that you could be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency, you’ll need to pay a visit to your GP. They can order a diagnostic blood test and may order x-rays to check your bone strength and density. Your doctor will likely recommend high strength vitamin D tablets or liquids if they identify a deficiency.


How to treat vitamin D deficiency

If you are deficient in vitamin D or worried that you have low levels, it’s always a good idea to visit your GP and ask for a diagnostic blood test.


It’s also worth following government guidelines and taking a daily supplement of 10 milligrams during the winter. If you are already taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement, check the label before you take any extra vitamin D. At high levels, this vitamin can become toxic and create additional health problems.


If you have been diagnosed with a deficiency by your doctor, he or she will discuss whether you should be given vitamin D tablets or a liquid. They will also discuss your dose, treatment schedule and answer any of your questions.


Your doctor may prescribe a daily or weekly dose of vitamin D supplements which are usually to be taken for 7-12 weeks. For children, they are more likely to prescribe daily drops, according to how deficient they are. Again, always follow your doctor’s advice regarding dosage and frequency. The higher the dose, the faster the deficiency is likely to improve.


After the deficiency has been treated, you may be given a maintenance dose to prevent any future problems. If this is the case, you’ll likely be given a lower dose than when treating your deficiency.


How to get enough vitamin D

By far, the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough vitamin D is to expose your skin to natural sunlight for at least 15 minutes per day. If you have darker skin, you should extend this time as it’s harder for you to absorb what you need.


However, always be mindful of your exposure to the sun and avoid getting sunburnt. If you plan to be outside for long periods of time, always use a high SPF sunscreen to protect your skin from damage.


This will be even harder in the UK between late September and late March as the UV levels are too low to provide the vitamin D that you need. For that reason, the government recommends that you take a daily supplement and also eat a healthy, balanced diet to help top up your levels.


What are the best foods to eat for vitamin D?

Although the best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, you can also find the nutrient in small amounts in certain foods. Most come from animal sources, making it harder for vegetarians and vegans to get the vitamin D they need from food.


This includes foods such as:

●       Oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, trout, herring and mackerel)

●       Red meat

●       Liver

●       Egg yolks

●       Mushrooms

●       Beef liver

●       Cheese


Some foods are fortified with added vitamin D and can help to keep your levels topped up. This includes orange juice, breakfast cereals, cow’s milk and plant milks. Simply check the label of your foods to find out whether they have this essential nutrient added.


How much vitamin D do you need?

The UK government recommends that children over the age of 1 and adults get 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D per day. This is equivalent to 400 international units (IU). Babies under the age of one need 8.5-10 micrograms (µg).


However, dosages can become confusing when different units of measurement are used.

Here’s a conversion to make it easier for you; 10 micrograms is equivalent to 400IU (international units).


Which vitamin D supplements should you take?

The UK government currently advises that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months. This is because we can’t make enough of the nutrients from the sunlight during the winter due to low UV levels and all the time we spend indoors at this time of year.


You can find vitamin supplements containing vitamin D for young age groups or if you qualify, apply for free supplements via the UK Healthy Start Scheme.


You will be offered vitamin D supplements on prescription by your GP if you have been diagnosed with a deficiency. You can also buy vitamin D supplements at your local branch of Whitworth or in our online store.


The products we stock include:

●       Nature's Bounty Vitamin D3 1000 IU (25 µg)100 Tablets

●       Solgar Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) 1000 IU (25 µg) tablets

●       HealthAid Vitamin D3 1000IU (25 µg) 30 tablets


Can you have too much vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which means your body can store any excess in case it's needed in the future. As beneficial as this can be, it also means that vitamin D levels could build up in your body and you could ‘overdose’ on vitamin D.


Whilst it’s extremely rare to get too much vitamin D from your diet, your risk increases if you are taking too many supplements. If this happens, you could trigger a range of serious health problems such as hypercalcemia (when too much calcium builds up in your body), kidney problems and heart problems.


For this reason, you should never take more than the recommended dose of 100 micrograms (4,000 IU) of vitamin D per day.


If you do overdose, you could suffer from symptoms such as:

●       Fatigue

●       Forgetfulness

●       Nausea

●       Vomiting

●       Stomach pain

●       Slurred speech, and other symptoms

●       Digestive distress,

●       Dizziness

●       Confusion

●       Excessive thirst

●       Frequent urination


Symptoms can last for many months after you stop taking supplements.


You cannot overdose on vitamin D from sunlight. But remember to protect your skin from sun damage by covering up and using sunscreen if you are going to be outside for long periods, even in the UK. It’s all too easy to suffer from sunburn, even on a cloudy day.


[Short on time? Visit our online store to buy your suncream and get it delivered straight to your door.]


What are the differences between vitamin D2 and D3?

If you’ve ever shopped for vitamin D supplements, you’ll have noticed that there are two different forms of the nutrient: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Both can be taken to increase your vitamin D levels, but are slightly different and offer different benefits.


Vitamin D2

Also known as ergocalciferol, this form comes from plants and fungus (mushrooms). It’s created when the plant is exposed to sunlight and is usually prescribed by GPs to treat health problems such as bone diseases such as rickets or low levels of calcium or phosphate in the body. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may prefer to take this plant-based source of vitamin D.


Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3, known as cholecalciferol is found in animal products and is the type that is generated when your body is exposed to sunlight and found in foods like oily fish. It’s also considered to be the most effective form of vitamin D to take if you want to fix a deficiency.


Final words

Make sure that you keep your vitamin D levels high and stay healthy by following the tips and advice we’ve shared here in this guide.

You’ll help maintain a healthy immune system, keep seasonal sniffles at bay, protect your teeth, bones and muscles and notice a variety of other health benefits.

Visit our online store to get your daily vitamin D supplement and make an appointment with your doctor if you are concerned about yourself or a family member. As ever, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to pop in for a friendly chat with one of our knowledgeable and friendly pharmacists.


Find your local branch here.