Casting light on ‘sunshine vitamin’

Soaking up the sunshine.
Soaking up the sunshine.

It may surprise you to learn that Northern England, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, is believed to have the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency due to limited exposure to strong sunlight. Here Michelle Winspear, from Advanced Nutrition in Sanderson Arcade, explains the importance of vitamin D.

A vitamin D deficiency can lead to a weaker immune system, weaker bones and muscles, and can have a negative impact on mental health. Yet statistics suggest that up to half of the UK population may be deficient due to lack of quality sun exposure.

Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced in your skin in response to the UVB rays in sunlight. Only ten per cent of our vitamin D intake comes from diet, from foods such as oily fish and eggs, with 90 per cent derived from sunlight.

The best time to produce vitamin D from sunlight in the UK is from March to October, between 11am and 3pm. Bearing in mind the risks of UV rays, you should aim for ten minutes of sun exposure once or twice a day as being outside on a bright summer’s day can enable your body to make 10,000 IU of Vitamin D.

Unfortunately, even in the British summer we often don’t get enough sunshine to produce our daily requirement of vitamin D, which is why many people turn to supplementation.

Vitamin D is critical to the health of bones and teeth. Without it, calcium cannot be effectively absorbed by your body. A deficiency in vitamin D can result in bone and muscle pain, poor bone mineralisation and a greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures as we age.

If you feel tired or low you could be in need of a vitamin D boost. There are links between vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that usually begins in the autumn and continues through winter. Symptoms include feeling sad or anxious, fatigue, concentration problems and irritability. Although the cause is unknown, studies have suggested that it may be triggered by lack of sunlight.

Vitamin D can stimulate the body’s production of anti-viral and anti-bacterial proteins, making it an effective nutrient to boost immunity and protect against colds and flu. People with low levels of vitamin D are 40 per cent more likely to report respiratory infections. Deficiency of vitamin D is also associated with increased risk of auto-immune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis.

The body’s ability to produce vitamin D is reduced with age, and inhibited by lack of sunshine or covering up with clothes. Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, people with darker skin pigmentation, young children and elderly people may also have inadequate UV exposure.

Deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to depression, chronic pain, asthma, osteoporosis and bone fractures.

If you are deficient in vitamin D you need to take an oil-based supplement, as it is more easily absorbed, containing 5000IU, for five weeks, and then a daily supplement of 800IU.

For more information see us at Advanced Nutrition.