Vitamin D is well known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and is responsible for many important functions within the body. But, are we getting enough?
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at utilising Vitamin D and absorbing calcium. A key factor in getting enough Vitamin D is how much time we spend outside in sunshine. Some people become more sedentary and housebound especially during lockdown.
What is vitamin D?
Rather than a true vitamin, Vitamin D is actually a pro-hormone. When it is converted to its active form in the liver and kidney, it acts as a hormone to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body. Both these minerals are important in keeping bones healthy and calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction, so Vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle function. Deficiency in Vitamin D can cause weakened bones, potentially resulting in a condition called osteomalacia in adults. It can also result in weakened muscles.
Where can I find Vitamin D?
Our skin naturally produces Vitamin D when it is exposed to UVB sunlight. During the summer months (April to September) the sun is high enough in the sky and strong enough for sufficient UVB rays to make it through the earth’s atmosphere to cause this natural reaction, when we expose our skin to sunlight. It was previously thought that the sun that we experience throughout the summer was sufficient to ensure we had enough vitamin D stored to last us through the winter months.
Last year, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent panel of experts that advise Public Health England, produced a report that concluded that many people do not maintain sufficient stores of vitamin D to supply the body over the winter months.
A healthy diet with oily fish, red meat, liver, and whole eggs will contribute to your Vitamin D intake. Your best strategy for increasing you intake as you age is to get outside in the sunshine regularly. However, it is sensible to be realistic about your lifestyle and activity levels. Unless you spend a lot of time outside in sunny weather, take a daily Vitamin D supplement. This will give your body the support it needs.