Recently, the media has turned their attention to whether or not we should be taking supplements. Many hold the belief that if you follow a well balanced diet there should be no need for supplements and whilst there is no replacement for a healthy diet, the reality is that the modern life is a fast-paced, often hectic affair and taking the right supplements can assist you in your quest for balance. This is especially the case for those who don’t feel their best on a day-to-day basis – low energy, frequent colds of infections, poor sleep, problem skin, bloating… It’s a familiar story isn’t it?
Vitamin D – What is it and why do we need it?
Vitamin D is possibly one of the most important nutrients in the body, and sadly the diet, however healthy, does little to deliver enough. Back in August 2016, headlines suggested that even the NHS has reformed it’s thinking and in the UK we all need daily supplementation during the winter months. So here are some of the facts to help you make an informed decision about vitamin D supplements and whether you actually need them.
Most people know about vitamin D because it is associated with sun. It is produced in our bodies by sunlight acting on the skin, kicking off a series of physiological conversions that result in synthesis of vitamin D. It’s in this form that it promotes and stimulates calcium absorption and helps regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the body. This is important for ensuring healthy teeth, bones and muscle, and is also essential for mood, memory, hormone balance and beyond.
How much do we need?
The recommendation for adults is 10mcg a day and throughout March to September we should be able to produce enough without supplementing if we spend 20 minutes per day in direct sunlight, without SPF. However, we all know that summer doesn’t always mean sunshine and blue skies, so what steps can we take to ensure we still get enough?
Diet: Oily fish is a good dietary source and some foods are fortified with vitamin D, including some breakfast cereals (sadly the latter are often processed and refined, and full of sugar – check the label!)
Supplements: Public Health England is now recommending adults and even children take a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter.
Supplements: safe or necessary?
Having excess vitamin D in your body over a long period of time could increase calcium levels too much, potentially leading to liver, kidney and bone damage. However, with a limit of 100mcg and other studies showing that even as much as 250mcg a day doesn’t cause toxicity, it’s unlikely to be a problem for most people.
As busy urbanites with fast paced jobs, often involving long hours and endless meetings, not to mention that early morning workout, the trend of modern living is leaning towards more indoor lifestyles. Couple this with the fact that we’re actively avoiding the sun due to other medical advice, it is no wonder that many aren’t getting as much vitamin D as they should be. Recent figures reflect this, with deficiency becoming more prevalent.
Signs of deficiency
While the signs may be subtle, muscle, joint and bone pain or weakness could mean you have vitamin D deficiency. Thyroid issues, poor immunity, changes to mood, seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and low energy are also common side effects.
There are also people in risk groups who could be more prone to deficiencies such as strict vegans, people with milk allergies, people with dark skin and from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds who may want to consider a daily supplement year round. You may also want to consider daily supplementation if you are not outdoors often or cover up in the sun.
What should I supplement with?
I recommend getting tested first through your GP. You can also send off for home testing kits before deciding whether to supplement or not.
- If you don’t want to do a test, a safe dose is 400iu/10mg over winter months.
- If you are low in vitamin D, you can take up to 2000iu/50mgfor 2 months before retesting.
Disclaimer: Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme.