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What's the deal with vitamin D?


Vitamin D has been considered an important nutrient for many years. Recently, there has been a lot of research into it due to its possible role in protecting people from the effects of COVID-19. Although this needs to be looked at in more detail to establish if there is in fact a causal relationship, some of the research suggests a possible link between low vitamin D levels and increased mortality and severity of COVID-19 infection.


Vitamin D has long been studied for its potential effectiveness in treating respiratory illness. It has also shown positive results in studies looking at its effects on mental health; specifically anxiety and depression. Vitamin D also plays a role in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – making it essential for bone and muscle health. In addition to this, it is important for immunity, heart health, and energy levels. It is unique in that it is the only vitamin that we are able to synthesise from the sun. This happens when the skin is exposed to UV rays which react with cholesterol within it to make vitamin D.


So, whilst it is extremely important to protect our skin from potentially harmful UV rays, it is equally important to ensure we are getting some exposure to the sun for vitamin D synthesis. Around 10 minutes per day with 35% of skin exposed (which is the case when wearing shorts and a t-shirt) is recommended throughout the summer months. It is important to note that darker skin with more melanin can take longer to synthesise Vitamin D than fair skin with smaller amounts of melanin.


Although we can get vitamin D from our diet, it is in relatively small amounts compared to what we are able to produce from the sun. Examples of foods that contain vitamin D are fish, egg yolks, red meat, liver and mushrooms. A good quality vitamin D supplement may also be helpful to increase levels during the winter.


It would be advisable to have your vitamin D levels checked before supplementing. Groups more at risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as people over the age of 65, those with darker skin tones, people who are often indoors, children and babies, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and those who live in colder, less sunny climates may benefit from supplementing throughout the year.


Try to include more vitamin D-rich foods in your diet whenever possible – oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring or mackerel are particularly good sources and for vegetable sources, mushrooms and spinach contain some vitamin D.


Of course, do try to get those arms and legs out if possible and soak up some sunshine and the many benefits this brings!


Disclaimer: The content of this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. References are available on request.