14 Nov Vitamin D in Winter: Are Supplements Necessary?
Today’s blog post is written by Mary from the Achieve Team. Mary recently finished her MSc in Human Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and is here to provide you with evidence-based nutrition knowledge!
It can be difficult for our bodies to get enough vitamin D in winter due to the lack of exposure to sunlight. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to fatigue, feeling unwell and even bone pain.
If you are looking to stay fit and healthy, you may want to consider upping your intake of vitamin D in winter.
What is Vitamin D and why do I need it?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to keep teeth, bones and muscles healthy. It does this by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate that is in the body.
Low levels of vitamin D in winter can increase the risk of deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can result in fatigue, aches and pains and a general sense of not being well, to more serious issues such as bone pain and muscle weakness caused by osteomalacia.
What foods contain vitamin D?
Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods such as fat spreads and some cereals. However, it can be difficult to obtain all the vitamin D that we need from food. Vegetarians and vegans are particularly at risk of low vitamin D levels due to the lack of meat and eggs in their diets.
Can I get vitamin D from anywhere else?
Yes, our bodies can create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when we are outdoors. So, in the summer (April – September) we should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight and our food.
However, in the winter (October – March), exposing ourselves to sunlight can be difficult when the days are short and dark. As a result, this increases our risk of having low levels of vitamin D and subsequent deficiency.
Should I be taking a supplement?
A recent study finds that up to one in five adults and children have low vitamin D levels. As a result, Public Health England (PHE) is now advising that adults and children over the age of one should have 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day.
As this is difficult to obtain from food alone, taking a supplement through the winter months may be necessary.
There are several groups that should take a supplement all year round. This includes:
- Children aged 1-4.
- People with dark skin (from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds).
- People with limited exposure to sunlight (those in care homes or people who cover their skin when outside).
Where can I get Vitamin D supplements from?
You can buy vitamin D supplements from most supermarkets and pharmacies.
A recent study also suggests that obesity may be associated with reduced vitamin D levels. Whilst this finding has not been confirmed, the message remains the same. Maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial to physical and mental health.
So, whilst it is often encouraged that we should be getting all of our nutrients from the food we eat and not just taking vitamins and minerals in supplement form, there is an exception to the rule! Particularly if you fall into one of the groups at elevated risk of vitamin D deficiency, it might be worth considering taking a vitamin D supplement.
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