Vitamin D, sometimes known as the sunshine vitamin is a fat-soluble nutrient that is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Although there are a few foods that contain a little bit of vitamin D, we do need sun exposure to get adequate levels…and therein lies the problem. Over the next few months, most of us living in Ireland will not see much of the UVB rays our body needs to make enough of the sunshine vitamin D. NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) estimates that vitamin D deficiency affects one in five adults and one in six children. 

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps us absorb and utilise calcium, so it has a number of important functions in the body – essential for bone health, cardiovascular function and blood pressure. Over the last few years, research has been mounting to suggest that vitamin D is also important for immune function, hormone regulation and neurotransmitter balance. 

Vitamin D has far reaching effects and low levels have been associated with conditions and symptoms as diverse as an increased risk of seasonal illnesses like flu and colds, to SAD, auto-immune conditions and increased cardiovascular risk. 

Some people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than others. For example, those who do not spend a lot of time outside, older people and people with darker skin tones. Because we live so far away from the equator we get very few sunny days, especially at this time of the year. 

It is highly recommended for the following groups of people to supplement vitamin:

  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Infants and young children under 5 years of age
  • Older people aged 65 years and over
  • People who have low or no exposure to the sun
  • People who have darker skin

Where do we get it?

The very best way to get enough vitamin D is to get enough sunshine, but between October and May that can be tricky, unless you spend the winter in sunnier climes. 

If you are lucky enough to get some winter sun, most of us can make enough vitamin D by being out in the sun without sunscreen for short periods of time between 11am-3pm, taking care not to get sunburnt. 

For the rest of us, it is recommended that we add a vitamin D3 supplement into our daily routine Some foods naturally contain a little bit of vitamin D, and other foods are fortified with it, but the levels we find in foods tend to be quite low. That is why it is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement in the winter months, between October and May. 

If you take a closer look at your regular multi vitamin, it is likely to contain around 400iu of vitamin D3. This is the active form, and the lowest recommended level for supplementation, according to NICE guidelines. 

Other recommendations suggest that we need between 1000iu and 4000iu for optimal levels. 

  • Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring. 
  • Full fat dairy products. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so we need the full fat stuff to get some vitamin D from our milk, yoghurt and other dairy produce. 
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified foods like some yoghurts and breakfast cereals

Did you know… To achieve the minimum recommended daily amount of 400 IU you would need to eat: 8 eggs, 3kg of cheddar cheese or 2 cans of tuna – every day!

What about vitamin D supplements?

When choosing a vitamin D supplement, there are a few things to look for: 

  • D3, as this is that active form
  • Supplement levels between 400iu (for maintenance) and 4000iu (for deficiency). 

Get 15% discount off your vitamin D supplements from www.betteryou.com using the discount code VITAL15

The blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 19 October 2019.