Vitamin D: Everything You Need to Know

Vitamin D is often known as “The Sunshine Vitamin”. It plays a role in many aspects of our health, but the main ones are:

  • Helps our bones – Vitamin D is vital for the health of our bones. Its main job is to help carry calcium into our bones. Without Vitamin D doing this job, calcium deposits can build up and cause blockages.
  • Helps our Immune system – Vitamin D supports the normal function of our immune cells to help fight bacterial and viral infections. Both an under-active and over-active immune system can be problematic and so Vitamin D helps to promote a balanced immune response.

Research is also being undertaken into the role Vitamin D plays for helping our mood and our skin health.

Where can I get Vitamin D from?

By far the main source of Vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight. When our skin is exposed to UVB rays from the sun, it triggers our skin to produce Vitamin D. Your skin has a built-in system to prevent getting too much Vitamin D from the sun. If you are darker skinned, you will need a longer period of time exposed to the sun. Remember that being covered up and sunscreens will block the Vitamin D production. Getting enough sun in the UK is difficult which is why so many people are deficient in Vitamin D.

You can also get very small amounts of Vitamin D from our diet. Vitamin D containing foods include oily fish, mushrooms and egg yolks. Good quality Fish Oil supplements will contain Vitamin D.

Am I likely to be deficient in Vitamin D?

You can get a blood test from your healthcare provider to get an exact result. Otherwise, if you fall into any of the following categories, chances are that you are deficient.

  • You spend little time outside
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You are over 65 years old
  • You have darker skin
  • You cover most of your skin when outside
  • You live in Northern climates
  • You are housebound, a night-shift worker, or work in an office
  • You are significantly overweight

How can I increase my Vitamin D levels?

Get more sun exposure if that is possible! If not, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement or get your Vitamin D from a fish oil Omega 3 supplement. The Department of Health has realised the importance of Vitamin D and looked at how many people are deficient. Because of this, they have indicated that adults and children should take a Vitamin D supplement especially in the Autumn and Winter months.

What is the difference between Vitamin D and Vitamin D3?

When you buy a supplement, look for Vitamin D3 and not Vitamin D2. Vitamin D2 is produced by plants when they are exposed to UV light. Vitamin D3 is the biologically active form of the vitamin found in our bodies. We know that Vitamin D3 is more important for our health and wellbeing. It is also absorbed better by our body. There is a specific enzyme in our liver which helps Vitamin D3 metabolise into the bioactive form which is used by our body. This process takes longer with Vitamin D2. Vitamin D2 is therefore not as effective. A good amount of Vitamin D3 to take is between 1,000 – 2,000iu although you may need more if you are severely deficient. You can obtain vegan Vitamin D3 which is sourced from algae.

Does Vitamin D3 help prevent COVID 19?

Several studies have shown that people with a Vitamin D deficiency are more likely to suffer from the effects of COVID. The group of people who are most at risk of deficiency in Vitamin D are the same group who are at increased risk of becoming very ill with COVID.

Research has shown that the severity of COVID-19 is determined by the presence of pneumonia, severe acute respiratory distress syndrome, myocarditis, microvascular thrombosis and/or cytokine storms, all of which involve underlying inflammation. A principal defence against uncontrolled inflammation, (and against viral infection in general), is provided by T regulatory lymphocytes (Tregs). Treg levels have been reported to be low in many COVID-19 patients and can be increased by vitamin D supplementation. Low vitamin D levels have also been associated with an increase in inflammatory cytokines and a significantly increased risk of pneumonia and viral upper respiratory tract infections. In addition, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increase in thrombotic episodes, which are frequently observed in COVID-19. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to occur more frequently in patients with obesity and diabetes. These conditions are reported to carry a higher mortality in COVID-19.

It seems therefore that a Vitamin D supplement would offer a relatively easy option to decrease the impact of the pandemic, but ensure that you always buy your supplements from a reputable company who specialise in supplements.

Shona Wilkinson
Shona Wilkinson Nutrition Ltd
Twitter – @shonawilkinson
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