Why we need vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for the development of healthy bone, muscles and teeth and low levels are linked to illnesses including rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. With this in mind it is important to make sure your vitamin D level is sufficient for good health.
1. Sun exposure
Sun exposure is the best natural source of vitamin D. When ultra violet (UV) radiation touches the skin vitamin D is made. However, a number of things affect this process including age, skin type, where you are in the world and the time of year.
During the summer months in Ireland spending a few minutes in the sun is the best way for your body to produce vitamin D. It is unlikely that your skin will make vitamin D in the winter months. But, the body can store enough to last between 30 - 60 days.
The World Health Organisation advice is to get 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure to hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months. In this way sun exposure as you go about your daily life really makes a difference. Walking outdoors for a few minutes to get your lunch, to pick up the children or hang out the clothes all counts. But, remember:
2. Eat a healthy balanced diet
Choosing foods that contain vitamin D is an important part of maintaining a health vitamin D level. The best foods to help with this are:
- Cod liver oil.
- Oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and fresh tuna.
Other foods with small amounts of vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks.
- Breakfast cereals that have added vitamin D - look the ingredients to check the level.
- Milk with added vitamin D.
- Margarines and butter.
3. Take a daily vitamin D supplement
According to the HSE, taking a daily vitamin D supplement is another way to meet your vitamin D needs. They suggest taking a supplement that provides 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 per day. However, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.
The HSE also recommend that all babies from birth to 12 months are given a vitamin D supplement. To find out more about this speak with your GP.
Following the SunSmart code helps to prevent this. If you are worried or at risk of having a low vitamin D level talk to your family doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
There are a number of people who are at risk of having a low vitamin D level. They include:
- People with darker skin.
- People who cover up their bodies completely when going outside.
- Older people who don't get outdoors much.
- People who avoid the sun.
- Women who are pregnant.
- Babies who are being breast feed and whose mums have low levels of vitamin D.
- People with certain conditions which affect vitamin D metabolism.
If you are concerned about your vitamin D level, speak with your doctor.