You may have heard the importance of getting enough vitamin D. It’s essential for strong bones, healthy teeth and a robust immune system amongst a host of other important functions.
We’re warned about the dangers of getting too much sun, but we also need to make sure we get enough sun exposure to absorb that vitamin D. But if you’re experiencing health issues because of a vitamin D deficiency, it might not be down to diet or lack of sunlight. For some, genetic factors may be at play. Here’s how to tell if your levels are low and how to top them up.
Why do I need vitamin D?
Studies show that 1 in 5 people aren’t getting enough vitamin D, but why is this vitamin so important to our overall health?
Well, without sufficient vitamin D your body can’t absorb enough calcium which can result in weak bones and in some cases even bone abnormalities. Vitamin D is also instrumental for muscle health and a strong immune system, as well as lung function.
Boost your mood with vitamin D
Although we call it a ‘vitamin,’ it’s actually converted by the liver and kidney into a hormone called ‘secosteroid.’ This is so important for healthy brain function, playing a critical role in the brain’s early development and ongoing maintenance. Basically, vitamin D can boost your mood, giving you that feelgood factor and helping you through the doldrums of the winter season. Want more tips on how to beat the winter blues?
Why is vitamin D deficiency so common?
Sunshine is one of the greatest sources of vitamin D which explains why we might struggle to get enough of it, especially in our often gloomy British weather! But no sun doesn’t mean no vitamin D – you can get it from your diet as well.
As well as a lack of sun, some people spend too much time indoors due to work or life commitments, so they become deficient in that way. In general, the groups of people most at risk of vitamin D deficiency are:
- People over the age of 55
- People who work in an office
- People with darker skin tones
- Vegetarians and vegans
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
So, how can you tell if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D? If you’re missing out on vitamin D, your body might react with various signs and symptoms, including:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Aches and pains
- Feeling weak
- Excessive sweating
- Feeling blue
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect a vitamin D deficiency, you should book an appointment to see your GP. There might be many other causes of these symptoms, apart from a vitamin D deficiency, so it’s important to check in with your GP practice.
Is it in your genes?
Could your vitamin D deficiency be a result of genetics? Research suggests that your genes can play a role in having too little vitamin D. To find out how much input your genes have on your vitamin D levels, a simple DNA Diet Test can reveal a whole host of useful information allowing you can take steps to improve your health based on your genetic makeup.
Fitness blogger Getting Dad Fit said that his genetic results from Evergreen Life told him that he’s got “an increased likelihood of a deficiency in vitamins A, B12, B6, C, D, and E.” Knowing that his body is less efficient in metabolising these nutrients, the easiest option for him is to supplement.
3 ways to get more vitamin D
If you find you’re low on vitamin D, there are several ways you can increase your intake. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400–800 IU/day or 10-20 micrograms for adults.
- Balance your time in the sun
It’s the sun’s ultraviolet (or UV) rays that allow vitamin D to be created within your body. There’s no need to sunbathe to make vitamin D,though. Most people can make enough vitamin D from spending some time outside in the sun for about 30 minutes at a time. If you’ve got your forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen between March to September around midday, you’ll get your RDA. Before you get red or sun burnt, make sure to protect yourself with some SPF 15 or higher sun cream!
During the autumn and winter months, we get most of our vitamin D from our body’s stores and food sources. But even these aren’t sufficient to keep vitamin D levels optimal. Talk to your doctor about taking a supplement during the darker times of the year.
- Get more calci-yum
Getting enough calcium is crucial for your body to use vitamin D, as both nutrients work together to make your bones strong. You may know there’s a lot of calcium in dairy products, but you can also get it from dark leafy vegetables, fish, tofu, Brazil nuts and almonds!
- Vitamin D sources
It’s quite difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone, with vitamin D sources from food only making up about 10% of your total intake. But, if you are deficient, it can help to load up on some natural sources. The table below shows the natural vitamin D content of several foods:
Vegan sources of vitamin D
If you have certain dietary requirements, this can make getting the recommended vitamin D intake harder. Here’s some vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D:
- Soy Milk (choose low-sugar options for all around good health)
- Almond Milk
- Chanterelle Mushrooms
- Orange Juice fortified with vitamin D
If you want to know more about what nutrients your body needs, discover our DNA tests and get tailored recommendations on what foods to include in your diet.
Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. February 11,2016.