Vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining good health and supporting efficient growth. Among these essential vitamins, vitamin D is particularly important for bone health, immune system support, and mental well-being. However, in the UK, it is very common to be vitamin D deficient. A 2022 review published by the UK Department of Health & Social Care estimated that 20% of children and 17% of adults have low levels of vitamin D.

The best source of vitamin D is through safe sun exposure, which triggers synthesis in the skin. When ultraviolet rays from the Sun reach the skin, they interact with a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol. This interaction causes the compound to transform into previtamin D3, which is later converted into active vitamin D in the liver and kidneys. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestines, promoting strong bones and teeth.

The latitude of the UK influences the relative angle of the Sun, leading to a reduction in direct sunlight exposure, particularly noticeable during the winter months. This has implications for the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin, which can lead to consequential deficiency, causing symptoms such as fatigue, hair loss, and mood changes.

While diminished sunlight exposure can contribute to vitamin D deficiency, it is not the sole determinant. Adequate vitamin D levels can also be achieved through dietary sources (such as fish, mushrooms, yoghurts, and chickpeas) and supplements. Vitamin D supplements can be bought in most pharmacies or health shops, as well as being prescribed by a GP.

Image: Zeeshan Tirmizi

Preservation of vitamin D within the body is also promoted by a healthy lifestyle. Research published in the 2016 IOSR Journal of Pharmacy indicated a correlation between smoking tobacco and magnesium deficiency, which is needed to activate vitamin D in the bloodstream.

Additionally, according to information published by the National Health Service (NHS), those who come from countries in Southern Asia and Africa are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency when residing in the UK. This is due to the greatly reduced sunlight exposure compared to the Southern Hemisphere.

Melanin, the pigment responsible for the colour of the skin, protects against the harmful effects of UV radiation from the sun, reducing the risks of skin cancer and other related diseases. However, melanin also absorbs UVB radiation, which is crucial for the synthesis of vitamin D. Therefore, individuals with darker skin who have higher amounts of melanin may be more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. In regions with lower sunlight exposure or for individuals with limited sun exposure, this can lead to challenges in obtaining sufficient vitamin D solely from sunlight.

The Badger spoke to Deepti, an international student from India:

“We stay indoors because it’s so cold, so the chance of exposure to sunshine is reduced. I can tell when my body needs vitamin D. I get cramps in my legs, feel weak, and have consistently low energy levels. My doctor has prescribed a monthly dose of 60000 IU (a unit of supplement measurement) to be taken every alternate month.”

Karan Hinduja, who recently migrated to the UK from India, also talked about his experience with vitamin D deficiency.

“I started my eight-week course [of vitamin D supplements] when I was in India, and I’ll shift to a monthly dose as prescribed by my doctor. Now that I’ve moved to the UK, I have to get my vitamin D levels checked again as there’s hardly any sunlight in winter.”

In the pursuit of overall well-being, with consideration of Vitamin D, the interplay of sunlight, diet, and lifestyle choices plays a critical role in moving towards a vibrant and healthy life. By adopting a proactive approach, through knowledge of personal risk factors and routine health examinations, it is possible to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D and mitigate deficiency and consequential side effects. While the season boasts umbrellas, cosy fires, and scarves, remember to consider the role of the sun’s medicine, even if it does come from chickpeas or supplements at this time of year.

Any information published in this article must not be treated as medical advice. It is always important to consult a doctor with any worries you have regarding your health.


Vitamin D in Winter Wellness

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