By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 13:42, 01 November 2019
As the clocks have now changed and we have officially reached the end of British Summer Time (BST) it’s time to prepare for the dark winter months and the health implications this brings.
It’s around this time that many people have the disconcerting thought of starting and ending the day in darkness and as the evenings draw in, it can play tricks on the body. The vast majority of the vitamin D the body needs comes from our skin’s unprotected exposure to sunlight, which means that the time to change the clocks also indicates that it’s time to change your vitamin dosage to maintain, or boost, your levels.
Supporting a normal, effective immune system, vitamin D is an essential nutrient that regulates the intake of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous which are vital minerals required, among other things, for the formation of healthy bones.
Vitamin D also supports muscle function, allowing us to stay active by enhancing mitochondria – the ‘powerhouses’ of our bodies’ cells – which are responsible for turning energy from the food we eat, into energy for those cells. Those that spend a lot of time outside and those that lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle may not think they are susceptible to a lack of vitamin D however, the likelihood still exists, particularly if they fall within these seven groups of people deemed more ‘at-risk’ of deficiency.
Without vitamin D there is a danger that children will develop problems with their bones and muscles and any child that doesn’t get enough vitamin D, either through diet or from sunlight, can develop rickets. With vitamin D-related diseases, such as rickets, making a comeback; it’s more important than ever to protect children from a deficiency that can be easily rectified with supplementation.
Babies and young toddlers are particularly susceptible to low blood calcium levels if they do not have sufficient vitamin D and The Department of Health (DoH) recommends that all children under five-years-old should be given a daily vitamin D supplement.
Rebecca, mum to three-year-old Oliver says; “Oliver wears sunscreen most days, except for cold winter days when he’s wrapped up, so although he usually spends between two to four hours outside each day, he is always protected from sunlight.
Giving Oliver a daily supplement allows me to ensure he gets all of the vitamin D his growing body needs, and I particularly like using an oral spray for its convenience. It’s so quick and easy to use and the fact that is tastes great makes it an easy supplement option as Oliver enjoys taking it.”
Babies should also be given a vitamin D supplement from soon after birth. A recent report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends that breastfed or partially breastfed infants up to one-year-old should be given a vitamin D supplement, as unlike formula milk, breastmilk does not contain enough natural vitamin D.
A daily dose of 400 IU is suitable for children of all ages and for an alternative to tablets and droplets, try an effective and convenient oral spray such as BetterYou’s DLux Infant and DLux Junior Vitamin D Oral Sprays.
Expectant mothers are the only source of vitamin D for their baby and studies show that pregnant women with low levels of the nutrient may have higher rates of pregnancy related health conditions including; preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, birth by caesarean section and a lowering of the immune system. Recent research regarding vitamin D supplementation for preconception and pregnancy has suggested that it is important for conceiving and the delivery of healthy full-term births.
Vitamin D is also crucial as baby grows, as it’s essential in the body’s absorption of calcium, which helps to build baby’s bones and teeth. Women sufficient in vitamin D have also been found to be 10 per cent more likely to become pregnant compared to those with insufficient concentrations of the vitamin.
Mum-to-be, Samantha, says: “I’d been trying to conceive for quite a while, but it just wasn’t happening for us and there was no medical reason to explain why. I had almost given up hope when I spoke to a friend who suggested I try vitamin supplements, so I tried a vitamin D oral spray and within three months I was pregnant.
“I honestly, hand on heart, believe that supplementing vitamins helped us conceive as it was the only thing we changed in our lifestyles.” With indications that vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of infants being small for their gestational age and improve growth during infancy, a recent study suggests that expectant mothers should be supplementing with up to 2000 IU of vitamin D per day to help reduce the risk of foetal and neonatal mortality
Due to ongoing advances in technology, healthcare and lifestyles, people in the UK are living for longer and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicts that there could be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 years and over by 2066 – a population roughly the size of presentday London – meaning this age group would account for 26.5 per cent of the projected population.
These older adults are at-risk of lower levels of vitamin D due to their body’s reduced ability to synthesise the vitamin along with decreased dietary intake. Inadequate amounts of vitamin D in older people reduces wellbeing, aggravates the ageing process – in particular reducing mobility – and adds to the severity of osteoporosis, increasing the risk of falls and fragility fractures.
There is also evidence to suggest there is a relationship between low levels of vitamin D and diseases associated with ageing such as cognitive decline, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, among others. 80-year-old, Keith says: “Being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and being in early stage dementia has meant that feelings of tiredness were common for me and I never suspected that low vitamin D levels could be contributing to this.
“It was only after I bought a vitamin D oral spray that I noticed a difference and I began to feel a lot happier in myself. I no longer feel so tired and I’m sure my immune system has been helped by supplementation.” Due to its many health benefits, including its role in preventing osteomalacia and muscle weakness, the Institute of Medicine recommends those over the age of 65 should aim to intake at least 800 IU of vitamin D daily, with doses up to 4000 IU advised as being safe. Achieving such intakes will usually require supplementation due to the small extent that vitamin D is absorbed from food.
The body’s ability to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight is imperative, as there are few foods that provide vitamin D at meaningful levels. However, the amount of vitamin D that is produced from sunlight depends on the time of day, where you live and the colour of your skin. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in those with darker skin as they have a natural barrier towards the UVB rays needed to penetrate the skin.
This natural barrier comes in the form of melanin. Melanin is the term used for a group of natural pigments that affect how light or dark your skin colour is, the more melanin you have, the darker your skin colour. This melanin competes with vitamin D in the skin for UVB absorption, meaning that darker skin types allow less UVB to enter the skin and consequently produce less vitamin D. Add to this, the fact that research indicates Asian ethnicity is associated with reduced intestinal permeability (the intestines’ ability to allow nutrients to pass through the gut), it is clear that ethnicity should be a consideration when addressing vitamin D intake.
Simone, of Black, British Caribbean Heritage says: “I frequently have a low mood and as the night’s get longer, I feel I am becoming tired for long periods of time. This made me suspect I may have low levels of vitamin D, so I tested my levels. “Knowing that my heritage puts me at higher risk of being vitamin D deficient, due to the melanin in my skin reducing vitamin D production, as well as discovering that I have insufficient levels of vitamin D (46.3 nmol/L), definitely impacts my attitude towards my nutrient intake.”
Current dosage recommendations for vitamin D do not differentiate between ethnic groups, however The Department of Health recommends that those with darker skin supplement all year round, with the Institute of Medicine setting a safe upper limit of 4000 IU per day for healthy adults.
In addition to helping to maintain a normal, functioning immune system, vitamin D is essential for young people due to its role in ensuring healthy bones. Adolescence is a key time for bone development and it’s once a teenager’s growth spurt is complete, at around 18-years-old, that more than 90 per cent of adult bone mass is established.
Vitamin D supports the rapid rate of bone growth during this life stage by enabling the absorption of calcium into the bone and sub-optimal levels of this vital vitamin can impair the regulation of calcium in the body and negatively impact bone health. A relationship also exists between peak bone mass gained during growth and bone strength during later life, so it’s essential for teens to get enough vitamin D to ensure bones stay stronger and more resistant to osteoporosis and fractures as we age.
12-year-old, Brodie says: “I’ve never considered that my vitamin D levels may be low. I have a normal, healthy diet and spend around an hour in the sunshine each day, so I try to get vitamin D naturally. I haven’t taken a vitamin D supplement before because I didn’t know how important it was. “I can’t believe that this is the most important age to support my bones! This has totally changed my attitude towards my vitamin intake.”
An evolution of modern lifestyles, where many young people spend much of their time indoors, reduces their exposure to sunlight and therefore puts them at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. In the interest of preventing vitamin D deficiency amongst adolescents, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises all young people living in the UK to take a 400 IU daily vitamin D supplement throughout the year.
The amount of people following a plant-based diet quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, with 600,000 vegans in the UK alone, or 1.16 per cent of the population, according to The Vegan Society. Whether animal welfare, health or the environment is the reason behind a dietary shift, one in three Brits have now stopped or reduced their meat consumption, which means it’s essential that those following a plant-based diet uphold nutrient levels for their wellbeing – including vitamin D.
The best food sources of vitamin D come from animal products such as beef, eggs and cheese, so vegans are more likely to require support in topping up their levels. Studies have found that the vast majority of those following a plant-based diet have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D, with just 10 per cent of vegans having serum vitamin D concentration levels of >75 nmol/L, which is the level proposed by some researchers to be optimal, meaning supplementation may be needed to ensure good health.
Nottinghamshire-based vegan, Sophie, says: “When deciding to adapt to a plant-based diet, I was more concerned about my nutrient intake and was aware I needed to monitor my levels as I wanted to obtain as many vitamins and minerals as I could through diet and lifestyle. Ultimately, I need to supplement part of my diet to maintain healthy levels and taking a daily dose of vitamin D gave me the confidence that my levels were taken care of.”
The majority of vitamin D supplements utilise lanolin (from sheep’s wool) as the source of the nutrient, however natural health brand BetterYou, has recently released an innovative new Vegan Daily Vitamin D Oral Spray which delivers 1000 IU of bioavailable Vitamin D3V, which is produced from Algae, per daily dose.
It is now estimated that full-time employees in the UK spend over 42 hours per week at work, meaning concerns are growing that Britain’s office workers are increasingly at-risk of vitamin D deficiency as they have limited opportunities to spend time outside. Most occupational groups have vitamin D levels below what’s considered optimal for health, however office workers are the most likely to suffer from low levels.
A recent study discovered that vitamin D deficiency was the highest among shift workers (80 per cent) and indoor workers (78 per cent) with nine out of ten office workers also being found to have insufficient levels of the vitamin. These results demonstrate how occupation is a major factor that may contribute to suboptimal vitamin D levels and this has led researchers to champion workplace wellness programmes which provide nutritional education to workers in addition to highlighting the importance of adequate levels of vitamin D.
Full-time office worker, Adam, says: “As we get most of our vitamin D from sunshine, I know that working in an office is likely to impact my levels and effect my immune system, but it’s really difficult for me to try and counteract this. “I walk the dog both in the morning and the evening to try and combat spending a lot of time indoors, but this is normally when the sun is rising or setting so I’m unsure what benefit this has for my vitamin D levels. That’s why a quick and convenient supplement is the best option for me to top up nutrient levels.”
In the UK, SACN advises that everyone supplement vitamin D during Autumn and Winter months to protect bone and muscle health, with The Department of Health recommending that atrisk groups take a supplement all year round. It’s important to understand baseline vitamin D levels to determine how much supplementation may be required, you can do this by testing your levels either by visiting your GP, or simply using an at-home testing service.
Designed with convenience in-mind, the testing service provides accurate and detailed results, along with a tailored supplementation plan and complimentary oral spray. Our bodies react to each vitamin and mineral differently and each person will have a unique response to taking a supplement so the amount of time before you will start feeling a difference will vary. Those with nutritional deficiencies will likely feel a difference much quicker than those who require maintenance dosages, however everyone should experience significant benefits after one month of daily supplementation.