What is vitamin D and why do we need it?
Vitamin D is essential for many systems in our bodies to maintaining good health. It has long been known that it plays an important part in keeping bones and teeth strong by working with calcium. Lack of vitamin D can lead to thinning of the bones, osteoporosis, increased risk of fractures and even rickets. The shape of the bones can change. Pain in the limbs and muscle weakness causing a risk of falls can occur in adults.
There is a lot of research going on at present into the other functions of Vitamin D and there is gathering evidence to indicate that it is useful for the immune system, reducing inflammation and it may even help prevent certain other diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and dementia.
At Chase Lodge, the doctors have been aware of low Vitamin D as a risk factor in patients coming to the surgery with frequent infections or low energy and aches and pains. Some patients have had their Vitamin D levels checked by a simple blood test. We have been surprised in some cases at how low the levels have been in certain patients who had no idea they were at risk of deficiency.
Why is Vitamin D low in the population?
The best way to get vitamin D is by the action of sunlight on the skin. The recommended safe way to do this is to sit in the sun for 20mins with face and forearms exposed (being very careful not to burn if you have fair skin). In the UK, however, the weather does not always make this possible. In the winter months (from October to March) even on sunny days, the rays are not strong enough to make Vitamin D in our skins. Ideally we should all make enough vitamin D in the summer to keep us going through the winter months but often we don’t get enough sun exposure. The UK weather combined with our busy indoor lives and the use of high factor sunscreens to prevent skin cancer means that many of us, adults and children, have a low level throughout the year.
What does the Department of Health recommend?
The Department of Health recommends (NHS Choices website):
- all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate foetal stores for early infancy
- all babies and young children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops to help them meet the requirement set for this age group of 7-8.5 micrograms (0.007-0.0085mg) of vitamin D a day
- babies fed infant formula will not need vitamin drops until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as these products are fortified with vitamin D
- breastfed infants may need to receive drops containing vitamin D from one month of age if their mother has not taken vitamin D supplements throughout pregnancy
- people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun should also take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D
In simple terms, the recommended daily level for children is 400iu daily(10 micrograms) and for adults 1000iu ( 25micrograms) daily to maintain a normal level.
If your level is found to be very low, however, you will need to take a high dose of Vitamin D to make sure you get your level back up to the recommended level for optimal health as it takes a while for the vitamin D to be distributed to all the tissues that need it. The dose regime will be advised by your doctor according to the blood test measurement and risk assessment. A follow up blood test is important after the booster dose has been taken to make sure that the Vitamin D levels and Calcium are normal.
Ask at Reception about booking a blood test and at Pharmacy for more information on the various preparations we recommend for supplementing your Vitamin D levels.