There’s still time to enjoy the last rays of summer before the darker evenings creep in.
Spending time outdoors has a range of health benefits, including increasing our uptake of vitamin D3. Michelle Winspear, from Advanced Nutrition in Sanderson Arcade, Morpeth, explains all you need to know about the ‘sunshine’ vitamin as we head towards National Vitamin D Awareness Week, which runs from October 19.
Bask in the sun’s rays
Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D3, which is vital for healthy bones and a strong immune system. Vitamin D3 helps our bodies to absorb calcium, strengthening our bones. It has also been shown to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities.
Exposure to sunlight every day between 11am and 3pm, from May to September, increases vitamin D3 levels. Aim for ten minutes of exposure to your skin once or twice a day, depending on skin type, without sunscreen.
Always take care not to burn, especially during the strong sunshine in the middle of the day. If you do burn, your body will deplete vitamin D3.
Risk of deficiency
If you stand in the sun and your shadow is longer than you are tall, then you’re not making vitamin D3 in your skin.
Up to 50 per cent of adults in the UK are deficient in vitamin D3 due to lack of exposure to strong sunlight, particularly in winter. Those most affected include people in Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, due to the lower levels of sunlight in these regions. We also become less effective at producing vitamin D3 as we age so the over 65s are particularly at risk.
As our bodies cannot produce vitamin D3 from sunlight through windows, people who spend large amounts of time indoors could also be deficient.
Ethnic minorities with darker skin tones, and those who cover up for cultural reasons, should also consider a supplement, along with pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Even on cloudy summer days we can still produce vitamin D3, but what happens in winter? Vitamin D3 may be better than vitamin C for cold and flu protection so topping up with a supplement makes sense.
Studies in Finland and Japan showed that people who had adequate vitamin D3 levels were less likely to get respiratory illnesses. This could be because vitamin D3 supports production of anti-viral and anti-bacterial proteins.
Government experts recently proposed that everyone should consider taking vitamin D3 supplements. The draft guidelines suggest, from the age of one, ten microgram pills.
You could try Pharma Nord’s Bio-Vitamin D3. The vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is identical to the form produced naturally in the skin. Oil-based capsules are also best as the vitamin can be more easily absorbed.
Adapt your diet
Only about ten per cent of our vitamin D3 comes from food, but adding food such as oily fish and eggs to your diet can help. Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D3 so remember to check the label.