With doctors fearing the return of rickets due to low levels of the sunshine vitamin. How can we sun-starved Brits get enough this winter?
WHAT’S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT VITAMIN D?
- It can increase our bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Improve brain function and help ward off dementia. Research shows those with low levels of vitamin D have faster cognitive decline than those with higher levels.
- Beat cancer. Those with high levels of vitamin D had a 30-50% lower chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer and a 50% lower risk of colon cancer.
- Shed the weight. You’re more likely to be obese if you have low vitamin D levels.
WHAT CAUSES A DEFICIENCY?
Essentially, not enough sun! We get most of it -more than 90% – from exposing our skin to sunlight. So it’s no surprise that living under grey skies, many Brits just aren’t getting enough. On top of this, we just aren’t heading outdoors enough either, which is why doctors are seeing a rise in deficiency and the return of the Victorian disease rickets, which causes bone deformities.
WHAT ABOUT RICKETS?
The bone deformity caused by lack of vitamin D is making a comeback with a 400% rise in cases in the UK in the past 10 years.
“I’ve noticed a big increase in vitamin D deficiency and we’re now seeing rickets in children again,” says Dr. Benjamin Jacobs, Director of Children’s Services at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. “We’ve campaigned to avoid sunshine to prevent skin cancer, but we should take vitamin D, some other way, take a supplement or fortify your food.”
10 micrograms daily are the amount we need to stay healthy. If you’re worried ask your GP for a blood test. If your levels are less than 25nmol/L of plasma, then you can be treated with an injection for an instant boost.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
These can be similar to other conditions, such as feeling tired, dizzy, depressed, headachy or having aching limbs, so it can be difficult to pinpoint.
Your bones can become more fragile, giving you an increased risk of fractures (osteoporosis). Other conditions linked to a lack of vitamin D include constipation, muscle weakness, infection, poor growth, irritability and bone pain.
Mushrooms can convert UV rays into vitamin D, so place them near a window to boost their potency.
BOOST YOUR LEVELS
More than 10 million people have vitamin D deficiency but don’t know it. Boost yours with three easy steps.
- Get more sunshine: Vitamin D is synthesised by your body when it’s exposed to UV light. So although it’s important to protect yourself in the sun, you need to build up your vitamin D levels with bursts of unprotected sun between April and October to build reverses for the winter. “Try getting 10-15 minutes of sun exposure to your arms, hands or back, 2 to 3 times a week,” says medical nutritionist Dr. Sarah Brewer. “Longer exposure doesn’t provide additional benefits.” So make sure you apply a high SPF afterwards.
- Take a supplement: The Department of Health advises those who have low or no exposure to sun, those with darker skin, over 65’s and all children aged 6 months to 5 years to take a vitamin D supplement. For adults, it’s worth taking a daily supplement. And the most recent advice from public health officials is that, in winter months, everyone should consider taking a 10 microgram supplement if their diet is unlikely to provide it.
- Eat well: Although you might only get a small portion of vitamin D from your diet, it’s still important to eat a mix of foods rich in the stuff, especially during the winter. Top up on oily fish, egg yolk, fortified cereals, red meat and diary products.
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