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The importance of Vitamin D Supplements all year

Feeling blue? Muscle aches and pains? Could you be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency? Could the solution be in a simple daily tablet?

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that helps to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood. Calcium and phosphate are both required for strong, healthy teeth and bones, so it’s important that we get enough vitamin D to help avoid weak teeth and brittle bones as we get older.

Known by many as the sunshine vitamin, the majority of our vitamin D is manufactured by the body when sunlight hits the skin. If it’s summery and we’re all in our T-shirts, then our skin is exposed enough to get ample vitamin D. But be aware the high factor sun lotions can also stop the UV (or more specifically) UVB

Sadly, during the colder and darker months (of which we have many!), it’s thought that many of us are deficient in this crucial vitamin. Low vitamin D levels can also be caused by being inside most of the time due to being elderly, frail or housebound, or wearing clothes that cover up most of your skin all of the time.

Dark skin also absorbs less sunlight than lighter skin. Therefore, people from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds who have dark skin may also struggle to get enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Vitamin D and Mental Health

The risks of being vitamin D deficient don’t stop at teeth and bone health. There’s now a known link between a vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as winter depression, it’s thought that SAD can be brought on by an imbalance in the hormone melatonin, which can be triggered by a lack of exposure to sunlight.

Melatonin is our ‘sleep hormone’ and is naturally turned on in the evening allowing us to wind down and prepare for bed. If our melatonin levels are consistently high during the day because we haven’t been exposed to enough sunlight, we can feel sluggish and tired or experience a low mood – all classic symptoms of SAD.

There’s also emerging evidence that a lack of vitamin D could lead to chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and general aches and pains.

So we need to be getting enough! But how?

Good Food Sources of Vitamin D

Very few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. Some countries, like the USA, add vitamin D to foods like milk, soy milk and cereal grains. Unlike other vitamins such as vitamin C which is present in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, it’s not possible to meet our needs for vitamin D through food alone.

That said, eating foods that contain vitamin D alongside other essential nutrients should form part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Vitamin D is found in oily fish (including herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines), egg yolks and to a lesser extent, mushrooms. Some foods have vitamin D added to them such as certain breakfast cereals, margarine and plant based milks. When a food has added vitamin D, the packaging will normally say “fortified with vitamin D”. Cow’s milk and dairy products produced in the UK are not fortified with vitamin D and are not considered a good source of this vitamin.

Vitamin D Supplements

Since here in the UK, winters are notoriously long and dark, the NHS recommends that we all take a daily vitamin D supplement from the beginning of October to early March. They recommend once a day supplements that contain 10 micrograms per tablet. (A microgram is one thousandth of a milligram and is often written as ‘µg’ or ‘mcg’, they are the same thing. You may also see 10 µg written as 400 IU, which is exactly the same strength as 10 µg.) However research shows that this may not be enough for most people and levels up to 100 – 125mcg or 4,000 to 5,000iu would be our recommendation.

Take one each day during the autumn and winter, and you’ll be getting all the vitamin D you need to see you through until spring. And that’s one less thing to feel down about during the dark winter days! However maybe it should be an all year round supplement, especially as we spend more time indoors and especially children get covered in sun lotion (of which more another time!).

What about Vitamin K

Many Vitamin D supplements combine with Vitamin K2 why is that? As mentioned above, vitamin D ensures that your blood levels of calcium are high enough to meet your body’s demands.

However, vitamin D does not fully control where the calcium in your body ends up. That’s where vitamin K steps in.

Vitamin K2 regulates calcium in your body in at least two ways. It promotes calcification of bone: Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin, a protein that promotes the accumulation of calcium in your bones and teeth.
Reduces calcification of soft tissues: Vitamin K2 activates matrix GLA protein, which prevents calcium from accumulating in soft tissues, such as the kidneys and blood vessels.

We would recommend a level of 50-100mcg and you will often find a combined Vit D + K2 supplement that will have these sorts of levels.

Take away facts for Vitamin D with K2

  • It improves general health.
  • It promotes the formation and strengthening of bones (a deficiency will cause bone softening diseases, which then causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults).
  • It positively supports the immune system.
  • It helps protect against some cancers, such as colon cancer.
  • It is of benefit in auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
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