Feeling a bit tired and gloomy? It could all be down to a lack of Vitamin D

Here, Lisa Oxenham interviews Clinical Nutritional Therapist Yvonne Bishop-Western for the low-down on the sunshine vitamin…

Lisa Oxenham is Marie Claire’s Beauty and Style Director, make sure you read her previous posts on baby weaning and the secret to healthy hair

If this week’s cold nights and rainy days are anything to go by, winter has fully set in. Unfortunately, with little sunshine for months and low levels of vitamin D, this also means irritable tendencies can flare up as Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in. Less daylight can increase levels of the sleepy neurotransmitter melatonin and reduce levels of the happy-inducing serotonin.

What we do know is that mood does seem to improve if your level is low and you top this up. “In the winter months we are less exposed to direct sunlight on our skin. The UVB reaction with the skin is needed to produce vitamin D so our levels tend to get low in the autumn, winter and early spring.

It may not be clear how vitamin D helps keep us winter happy but topping up low levels may not only cheer us up but are also vital for other areas of health,” says Yvonne Bishop-Western. “We need vitamin D for bone health, the immune system and function of nerves and muscles. Vitamin D is associated with a positive mood, healthy heart and immune system.

Who is at the greatest risk of a deficiency? Those working indoors or in urban areas where tall buildings, ozone and air pollution block sunlight, shift workers, those avoiding the sunlight due to medication, or those caring for babies and small children. People with darker complexions produce less vitamin D from sunlight and need two to three times the amount of sun exposure to make the same amount as those with lighter skin. Age is another factor as vitamin D synthesis declines with advancing years so the elderly are more at risk of deficiency

Does wearing SPF stop us making enough Vitamin D?  Some studies have suggested that using sunblock such as SPF 50+ negatively impacts on the body making its own vitamin D, however, short-term sunscreen use with a lower SPF probably does not affect vitamin D production and those who wear sunscreen are probably more likely to spend more time outdoors, thereby getting enough Vitamin D.

How can we tell if we are deficient?  Symptoms of a deficiency can include general tiredness, muscle weakness and muscle pain, but a blood test is required for diagnosis.

How can we increase our vitamin D intake? Sun-to-skin exposure for at least 20-30 minutes a day will help your skin create vitamin D in the summer. From about April to October, the majority should be able to get all the vitamin D from sunlight on skin. However, it’s unlikely that during winter you will get a sufficient level from the sun alone. Vitamin D is found in foods like fatty fish, egg yolks and certain light-exposed mushrooms, as well as fortified foods, but the best way to become vitamin D sufficient is by adding vitamins to your daily diet such as Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin D 1000IU. There are two main types of Vitamin D - D2 and D3. D3 is more potent so you need to take more D2 to achieve the same benefits.

Why is vitamin D supplementation important to babies? It is very important for pregnant women to make sure they are getting enough vitamin D as the primary source of vitamin D for babies is the stores that were laid down in baby’s body prior to birth. Although babies should be able to produce enough vitamin D from sunlight we are or course cautious of burning and so rightfully use sunscreen so it is advised that breastfeeding mothers supplement 10 micro-grams a day of vitamin D themselves, and that babies and children up to 4 years of age supplement 10 micro-grams of vitamin D a day unless they are having more than 500ml a day of formula which contains vitamin D.

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Alexandra Phillips

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