We're all aware that Vitamin D comes from sunlight - but why do we actually need it, and how much of it do we need? With winter most definitely upon us, the days are growing shorter, and miserably, sunlight is in even shorter supply than ever. So how can we make sure we're getting enough of the stuff? And what happens if we don't?
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body - two of the most important nutrients in keeping our bones, muscles and teeth healthy.
Vitamin D can also improve your mood - it can increase levels of serotonin in the brain, boosting those all-important feel good hormones. There's also mounting evidence that having low levels of the vitamin in your body could lead to an increased risk of a range of diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, and even some cancers.
And recent news has also confirmed that taking Vitamin D supplements could surprisingly help to ward off colds or the flu.
The data, published in the British Medical Journal, stated that our immune system uses the vitamin to make 'antimicrobial' defences, that puncture holes in bacteria and viruses, to help fight them off. While it's long been understood that Vitamin C can held defend against respiratory infections, it's now being suggested that even our food should have extra Vitamin D put into it, to maximise the benefits it could have in fighting off that pesky winter cold.
During the summer months, we can get most of our vital Vitamin D intake
straight from the sunlight - even if you're sat in an office for the best
part of the day, the longer days and brighter mornings guarantee you'll
absorb all you need. But in the winter, it can be much harder to get as much as we require.
Read on to find out how to make sure you're getting enough of this health-boosting vitamin...
Am I deficient in Vitamin D?
It's tricky to tell if you're suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency, as the symptoms are often vague. Most people with a deficiency suffer from general aches and pains, and an overall feeling of tiredness.
There are also people who are at higher risk of being deficient - people who spend a lot of time indoors, older people, pregnant women, or sufferers of obesity are all more at risk of a Vitamin D deficiency. So if you fall into any of these categories and are displaying symptoms, make sure to head to your doctor.
A Vitamin D deficiency could, in the worst
case, lead to bone deformities in adults such as osteomalacia, a condition
which can cause bone pain and weakness.
How can I increase my Vitamin D intake?
In the summer months - from late March to the end of September, you can easily get your Vitamin D intake by being out in the sun for short periods of time with your forearms, hands, and lower legs uncovered, so make sure to get outside as much as possible and soak up the sun.
But in the winter, from the beginning of October to the end of April, it's harder to get what you need from the natural rays, so you'll need to get more of your Vitamin D supply from food.
Eating oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackarel, is one way to up your dose of this super-vitamin, as are red meat and eggs, which have a high vitamin D count.
Can I take Vitamin D supplements?
Yes. Food generally isn't the best way to get your dose of Vitamin D (if sunlight isn't available), so the Department of Health actually recommends that everyone over the age of five should consider taking a Vitamin D supplement - especially in the darker months between October and March. Grab these from your local pharmacy.
What happens if I take too much?
Doctors recommend you only take up to 10mcg a day of supplements, as too much Vitamin D can actually cause more harm than good. Absorbing too much could result in too much calcium in the blood, which could cause hypercalcaemia, a condition which may weaken bones and scarily, could even damage vital organs such as the kidney and the heart.
What should I do if I think I have a Vitamin D deficiency?
If in doubt, head to your doctor, who can advise on whether or not you need to be taking supplements, and if so, how much you should be taking.
So what are you waiting for? Take a break and head outside for a walk in the sun - you've got no excuse now...