As we enter the winter months and spend less time outdoors our exposure to the sun begins to become less regular. Add to this the fact that many people are spending more time indoors due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, there is concern that we may not be getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is responsible for controlling the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate and is crucial for maintaining strong bones and muscles while also supporting the nervous system, regulating insulin and maintaining healthy skin. It is also crucial in supporting the immune system, which is of great importance at this time. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk in respiratory infections.
How Can I get Vitamin D?
The most common way to get Vitamin D is from exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) through incidental sun exposure. This can be done by going for walks (if not isolating), spending time in the garden, doing yoga or other exercises outdoors or having your morning coffee on the balcony. In summer, 10 minutes of exposure to sunlight is sufficient to achieve enough Vitamin D to maintain health. Sun exposure without protective clothing or sunscreen should always occur when the UV index is below 3 to avoid skin damage and cancer.
In winter the amount of time we need to spend exposed to the sun increases to approximately 30 minutes, or up to 90 minutes for those with naturally darker skin. Not only do we need to be spending more time in the sun in winter, wet weather and cloudy days make it harder to spend time outdoors.
Is there another way to get all our Vitamin D needs?
Can we get Vitamin D from food?
Food has not traditionally been a common source of Vitamin D but current research has found that food may provide more substantial levels than previously thought. In winter when our sun exposure may be less than optimal, food can help supplement our Vitamin D levels. 2 large eggs (specifically the yolk) can provide up to 85% of our daily Vitamin D needs while fish like salmon, barramundi, and mackerel also provide significant amounts of vitamin D. Mushrooms are a good source of Vitamin D when exposed to UV radiation, and one of the only plant-based options. Half a cup of UV exposed mushrooms has the potential to contribute 100% of your daily Vitamin D requirements. Other food sources include fortified products like margarine, cereals or milk.
How do I know if I’m lacking Vitamin D?
Statistics show that approximately 1 in 4 Australian have some level of Vitamin D deficiency. This could be due to people spending more time indoors for work and leisure, as well as people taking more precautions to protect their skin from sun by covering up and wearing sunscreen.
Not only has Vitamin D deficiency been liked to an increased risk of respiratory infections, it has also been associated with depression, anxiety and insulin resistance. Low vitamin D levels in children can result in Rickets, which is when the bones are soft and don’t develop properly. Vitamin D is also important for pregnant women with low levels associated with complications such as preeclampsia, hypertension and premature labour.
People at risk for low vitamin D include:
- Those who spend most of their time indoors
- Those with naturally dark skin
- Those who cover their body for cultural or religious reasons
- Obese people
- Babies of mothers with Vitamin D deficiency
- Those with any health condition that impairs vitamin D absorption
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include muscle aches and lethargy but a blood test is needed to confirm a vitamin deficiency.
Should I be taking Vitamin D Supplements?
Most people do not need vitamin supplementation. Only those at risk of Vitamin D deficiency or with very low Vitamin D levels need to be placed on supplements. The human body is able to regulate the absorption of Vitamin D through the skin and Vitamin D levels in food are too low to result in an overdose but, while rare too much Vitamin D through supplementation can result in Vitamin D toxicity. Too much Vitamin D causes a calcium build up in the blood (hypercalcaemia) causing symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, fatigue and frequent urination. Long term exposure to Vitamin D toxicity can further progress to bone pain, kidney problems such as calcium stones, calcification of soft tissue and cardiovascular damage. It is always important to seek the advice of a GP or Dietitian before starting any form of vitamin supplementation.
Written by Katherine Ramsden, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.