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Which vital nutrient are nearly a third of us not getting enough of?

Which vital nutrient are nearly a third of us not getting enough of?

Lena Edwards MD
5 minute read

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29 percent of adults have low levels of vitamin D between January and March every year and are consequently risking deficiency, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. For 11–18-year-olds, this jumps to 37 percent. Given the nutrient’s vital role in keeping muscles, bones and teeth healthy, what would deficiency mean for you and can you prevent it by taking supplements?

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the body creates it from direct sunlight, vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods. It’s pretty much impossible to get the recommended daily dose from the sun between October and March. They add that children under five and people at risk of deficiency should take a daily supplement year-round.

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D helps control the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. Research suggests a link between very low levels of vitamin D and rickets in children and the bone condition osteomalacia in adults. More recently scientists have started investigating its role in other areas of health. Research is limited, but studies suggest a link between adequate vitamin D levels and prevention of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, a reduction in acute respiratory tract infections and a lower risk of some cancers. And the British Nutrition Foundation is calling for young, healthy people in the UK to be aware of the risks associated with vitamin D deficiency.

Signs of deficiency

Signs of vitamin D deficiency are most commonly bone aches and pains and muscle weakness. Kay Niknam, from Bristol, explains what happened when she started to experience joint pain.

“I had been struggling increasingly with joint pain for several weeks, possibly months, when I went to see the GP. My daughter was a few months old and I was no longer able to carry her in a sling. Some days I struggled to walk because of the pain and was forced to cancel plans.

“The GP said I could self-refer for physiotherapy, but also booked me in for a blood test to check my levels. When I got the results, it turned out my vitamin D was low, and the GP said that could be the cause of my joint pain. I decided to take a vitamin D tablet daily when my daughter was born, as I was breastfeeding, but sleep deprivation made remembering things like taking vitamins much harder!”

Surprisingly, Kay was diagnosed with low vitamin D levels during the summer. “Because the summer was really hot and I had a young baby, I’d been avoiding going out in the sun”, she says.

The GP prescribed high-strength vitamin D capsules. “I noticed improvements in the first week, and after a few weeks was able to do all my normal activities again.”

Kay Niknam was diagnosed with low vitamin D levels following the birth of her daughter.

 

Who is most at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

Some people are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency than others. Risk factors include:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Dark skin pigmentation
  • Obesity
  • Old age
  • Multiple short interval pregnancies
  • Overusing sunscreen
  • Wearing clothes that cover every part of your body
  • Malabsorption
  • Lack of sun exposure.

The low-down on vitamin D supplements

Bahee Van de Bor, dietitian and British Dietetic Association (BDA) media spokesperson, has some tips on which supplements are best.

Is D2 or D3 a better supplement?

Research suggests that vitamin D3 is better absorbed, although both D2 and D3 are absorbed well by the body. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is obtained from animal sources such as oily fish. Our skin is also able to make D3.

“D2 (ergocalciferol) is the plant version of the vitamin. If you are following a plant-based diet, D2 is still a reliable form of vitamin D supplement.”

Is a spray supplement better than a tablet?

“If you struggle to take pills, the spray may be ideal. It’s down to personal preference. In terms of absorption, research suggests that vitamin D sprays are just as effective as tablets.”

Should we take supplements at a certain time of day, or with a certain food?

“Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is absorbed best when eaten with a meal consisting of fat. For this reason, it’s best to take it with meals.

“You are also more likely to remember to take your vitamins in the morning as opposed to at the end of the day, so it’s preferable to take it with breakfast, or lunch if that’s the first meal of your day. Having said that, if your mornings are rushed, the most important thing to remember is to take your supplement. For this reason, take it at a time that works best with your schedule.”

Can you get enough vitamin D by eating foods containing or fortified with it?

“As only around 28 percent of the population eat the recommended two portions of fish a week but If you have dark skin or tend to cover your face and hands throughout the day and/or are housebound, it’s best to take a supplement all year round.” Taking vitamin D as recommended by your practitioner could help prevent problems with bones, teeth and muscles.

This article in it’s entire content was published on BBC.com/health


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All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult your GP if you’re concerned about your health.

 

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