Millions of people across the UK are being forced to spend more time indoors as the Covid-19 lockdown continues.
Increased time spent at home means that many of us may not be getting the same amount of vitamin D that we normally would by being outside.
In response, Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday issued new guidance in which it encouraged the public to consider taking vitamin D supplements.
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So, what is vitamin D, why are people being asked to considering taking more of it, and how might it help our health during the coronavirus lockdown?
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a type of mineral that helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.
These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy, according to official NHS guidance.
If we don’t get enough vitamin D into our bodies this can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children.
Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults, NHS guidance adds.
Our skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun.
“The precursor to vitamin D is found in skin cells (kertatinocytes) and it is through sunlight that a complex array of reactions convert it into its ‘active’ form so it can be used by the body,” NHS doctor Asif Munaf tells The Independent.
“It is essential for immunity as we know that it has anti-inflammatory effects.”
Why are we being asked to consider taking more vitamin D?
We usually get most of the vitamin D we need from being outside. But as we approach week four of lockdown, many of us are not spending as much time outdoors as we need to.
As well as protecting our bones and teeth, vitamin D also helps to prevent us from getting sick – something which is vital during a pandemic.
PHE says we should consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin a day to keep us healthy.
Scotland and Wales have issued the same guidance.
This is because you may not be getting enough vitamin D from sunlight if you’re indoors most of the day, PHE official guidance states.
People with dark skin may also not be getting enough even if they spend time outdoors.
PHE recommends taking vitamin D throughout the year if:
- you are not often outdoors – if you are housebound because you are shielding, for example
- you live in a care home
- you usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
“It [vitamin D] is even more essential during quarantine as we have just come out of long winter and the spring months of March and April are when the Vitamin D we accumulated over the autumn begin to deplete so requires top-up, Dr Munaf adds.
“Low Vitamin D can cause lethargy and muscle pain as well as weakness.”
Sara Stanner of the British Nutrition Foundation said: “Unfortunately, as the effects of coronavirus continue, many of us are limited in the time we can spend outdoors. Correctly abiding by government rules and staying at home is immensely important and, while many of us have limited access to sunlight, this means we need to take a little extra care to keep our vitamin D levels healthy.”
Can vitamin D stop you getting coronavirus?
In recent weeks there have been some reports suggesting that by taking vitamin D you can reduce your risk of coronavirus.
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This is not true, and there is no clinical evidence to suggest that by taking vitamin D you will not catch the infection.
However, because of the health benefits associated with taking the mineral, as discussed above, the government recommends that you should consider taking vitamin D supplements.
How much vitamin D should I take?
Although vitamin D supplements are very safe and regulated, taking too much can be dangerous in the long run.
The government says you should not be taking a supplement of more than 10 micrograms each day unless advised to do so by your doctor.
“Babies up to the age of 1 year need 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day,” NHS guidance states.
“Children from the age of 1 year and adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency,” the guidance adds.
The government is also urging people not to buy more vitamin D than they need.
Where can I buy vitamin D?
Vitamin D supplements are widely available in your local supermarket and chemist.
They can form part of a multivitamin tablet or come by themselves, usually in the form of a small tablet.
If people do not stockpile vitamin D then there will be enough for everyone to buy – do not purchase more than you need to, experts have said.
The ingredient listed on the label of most Vitamin D supplements is D3. Vitamin D2 is produced by plants, and Vitamin D3 is the one made by your skin.
Vitamin drops are available for babies.
According to the NHS, vitamin D can also be found in a small number of foods.
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- red meat
- egg yolks
- fortified foods – such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals
If it’s sunny outside, should I sunbathe to get extra vitamin D?
If you decide to sunbathe then you need to wear sun cream as normal.
Although you can’t overdose on vitamin D, over-exposure to the suns rays can lead to burns and other health problems.
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