Vitamin DAre you getting any? Vitamin D has been in the press a…

Vitamin D
Are you getting any? 

Vitamin D has been in the press a lot lately because it has
been decided that we all need to be supplemented with it in the winter. As a
dietitian, I have seen loads of people with vitamin D deficiency and not just
sick people in hospital! People who work in office jobs who don’t see the light
of day 5 days per week; people who have darker skin but are otherwise healthy
and people with fair skin who burn easily so always cover up. Lucky for me, the
mutation that makes me have red hair also makes me better at producing vitamin
D so I don’t have to worry!

The main job of vitamin D in our bodies is to help us to
absorb important minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Vitamin D
deficiency gives symptoms such as tiredness, muscle weakness and joint pain …
but so does drinking too much alcohol and staying up late and having children –
apparently, so don’t go self diagnosing.

When we don’t get enough vitamin D and we aren’t absorbing
those important minerals, the biggest thing that happens is that our bones
become weaker, so concerns over vitamin D deficiency are completely valid.

So what I thought I would do, due to my lack of personal
investment in the subject of vitamin D deficiency, is ask a non-ginger to sum
up the evidence. So here is one of the very few male dietitians in existence,
one of the best scientific minds I know and all round great guy – Rob Davies
sharing his wisdom:

“Vitamin D, the happy
sunshine vitamin, has, I feel, been largely overshadowed by its vitamin and
mineral brethren, but recently, a lot of stirring and interest has brought
vitamin D into the glaring sunlight.  

A report published last week by the Scientific Advisory
Committee for Nutrition (SACN) has reviewed the currently available scientific
evidence on vitamin D and proposed recommendations for the general public to
ensure the vitamin D level in our bodies is sufficient.

So why is everyone so interested in vitamin D all of a

Well, vitamin D is
known to be an important nutrient for bone growth and repair. What is
interesting about vitamin D is its emerging effect on other things like
cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis
and type 1 diabetes. There are even links being made between obesity and
vitamin D … maybe we really can blame the weather for our spare tyre… unlikely.

So, where do we get vitamin D from? How can I keep healthy
bones and not die of a heart attack or cancer and not get diabetes MS or be

Sadly, vitamin D is rather lacking in food. The most vitamin
D harbouring foodstuff is…oily fish! Herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, fresh
tuna, sardines are all top sources of this wondrous nutrient (which most people
sadly, rarely eat), and you can also get some in egg yolk, fortified foods like
breakfast cereals, margarine, some yoghurts and milks, and for those non-animal
eaters out there, wild mushrooms. However, the largest, most abundant
contributor to our vitamin D needs is the fiery ball in the sky, the sun, and
also our skin, as without our skin we would not be able to convert the rays
from the sun into the vitamin D our bodies will use.      

The reason that we are having problems with vitamin D is
because we are designed for a lifestyle where we live and or work outside. The
rate of our environmental evolution from living in caves, walking everywhere
and hunting/gathering survive, to cars, offices and supermarkets has moved much
more quickly that our biological evolution ever could and as a result, many of
us are deficient.

What SACN have suggested in its report last week is that now
everyone above the age of 4 (including those at risk groups mentioned above) should
have 10μg/day BUT only during the winter months.

To combat this multifactorial problem of vitamin D, SACN
helpfully suggest the Government come up with some strategies to help people
get their 10μg/day…but unhelpfully provide no suggestions on actually how to do

One suggestion, which I have thought for a long time would
be useful, could be to do a public health campaign educating people on the
benefits of vitamin D, including dietary sources and information on supplements,
so people can decide for themselves what to do (bringing  self-responsibility and autonomy to the
people!), then conversely something like fortification of food products with
vitamin D, either obligatory or voluntarily, would be something to consider as
has been in the USA, Canada, Finland, Denmark, and Ireland, and we already do
this in the UK for flour and margarine so extending this list and adding vitamin
D to other foodstuffs would go some way to providing additional dietary vitamin

However, there is an ethical argument that should be
considered: government intervention vs self-determination; right to choose vs
best-interests…but something somehow somewhen should, nay, needs to be done if
we are to ensure that vitamin D levels are to be optimum to benefit our

In essence, it has been a long time coming for a daily vitamin
D recommendation applicable to everyone and so I welcome the publication of
this report, but it is only a step…a small step…into the enigmatic world of
vitamin D and I really do hope it does not take another 25 years for there to
be another re-evaluation of this important nutrient.”

If you think you might be vitamin D deficient go to your GP
and request to have your levels checked. Supplementation levels of 10μg per day
in winter have been recommended by the report, the maximum amount you should
take is thought to be 25μg per day. If you’re eating a couple of portions of
oily fish per week and are getting out in the day light most days you’re
probably fine. If like the majority of the population, you are indoors most of
the time and hate oily fish AND/OR have dark skin, keep covered up or live in a
care home you should consider supplementation.

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