Vitamin D is considered one of the most important vitamins for bodily function. It helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital nutrients to help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
A lack of the vitamin can lead to a number of health problems, including bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
Dr Sam Rodgers, General Practitioner and Medical Director of Medichecks, says he even sees increased levels of autoimmune disease in people with vitamin D deficiency, and that there are increased rated of heart disease such as heart attacks and heart failure.
But when the weather forecast isn’t great, and there’s little sunlight to be taken advantage of, Dr Rodgers suggests looking to approved vitamin D supplements.
He explained: “The richest dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and fresh tuna. Mushrooms (particularly if you leave them out to bathe in the sun), these are the only good natural source for vegetarians. Egg yolks have vitamin D within them, however you need to eat twenty a day to meet your basic vitamin D requirements, which may prove difficult.
“There are also a range of fortified juices, cereals and other foods so it is always worth checking the nutrition panel to see how much of your vitamin D requirements are provided by packaged foods.”
So who is at risk of a vitamin D deficiency?
According to the NHS, some people won’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
The Department of Health recommends that you take a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D throughout the year if you aren’t often outdoors, are in an institution like a care home, or usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors.
It adds: “People with dark skin from African, African-Caribbean and south Asian backgrounds may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight. They should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D throughout the year.”
What happens if you take too much vitamin D?
Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a prolonged period could lead to a build up of calcium in the body.
Having too much calcium - which is known as hypercalcaemia - can weaken bones, damage the kidneys, and damage the heart.
Hypercalcaemia may cause mild symptoms, but could also lead to pancreatitis, cardiac arrhythmias, and even a coma.
How much sunlight should you get everyday to prevent symptoms?
Just 30 minutes of sunlight a day is enough to top up on vitamin D, according to medical website Patient.info.
Up to half an hour of sunlight exposure to your face and forearms should give you enough vitamin D, it said.
“For a fair-skinned person, it is estimated that around 20-30 minutes of sunlight on the face and forearms, two to three times a week is sufficient to make enough vitamin D in the summer months in the UK.
“For people with darker skin and for the elderly, the amount of time needed to be exposed to sunlight to make enough vitamin D can be much more than this.
“The sunlight has to fall directly on to bare skin [through a window is not enough].”