As the NHS insists that we should all take the ‘sunshine supplement’ to beat bone disease, depression and even … – Daily Mail
Everyone should be taking Vitamin D pills, according to health chiefs, to improve our bones and muscles.
Public Health England recommends a 10 microgram daily supplement, and says even babies would benefit.
It was a surprising move, given that officials often claim that tablets are no substitute for a balanced diet.
However, deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to a raft of worrying problems, including the re-emergence of the bone-deformity condition rickets in children, and a similar problem, osteomalacia, in adults.
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Six volunteers, including a vegan, a fitness fan, a coffee drinker, a sun worshipper, an office worker and a skincare queen took part in the test
It has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression.
And while Vitamin D can found in oily fish, egg yolk and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal, this compound is mostly made by the body when sunlight falls on the skin, hence its nickname of ‘the sunshine supplement’.
A combination of overcast British weather and a rise in indoor, computer-based activities is thought to have triggered the problem.
Indeed, studies suggest at least one in five adults has low levels of Vitamin D, even if they are not truly deficient.
‘The problem is that many people wouldn’t be aware that they had this deficiency until they developed serious problems such as weak bones,’ says Dr Sam Rodgers, Medical Adviser to MediChecks.
‘But early signs include tiredness and general lethargy. It’s important to stop it before the problem becomes really serious.’
So as we head into autumn and winter, could you be deficient in Vitamin D? After all, if levels are low now, they can only expect to get worse.
To find out, we tested six people during August, when levels should have been highest. The results were, in some cases, a shock…
Everyone should be taking Vitamin D pills (pictured), according to health chiefs, to improve our bones and muscles
Tony Bishop Weston, 55, lives in the New Forest with his wife, Yvonne, 48, a nutritionist. The couple have four children.
Tony says: ‘When I lived in London I walked everywhere – but now I live in the countryside, I drive all the time.
‘I also spend an awful lot of time in front of the computer. I’m currently organising the VegfestUK London Health Summit and Athlete’s Summit.
‘It’s why I could do with losing a stone. The only time I really get any sun is when I mow the lawn or do some gardening.
‘I’m not a morning person – I don’t leap out of bed and get that first blast of sunlight. My wife and I are so busy with work and our children that we don’t seem to get the time to just enjoy the outdoors.
HOW THE TEST WORKS…
Our volunteers took a blood test provided by home testing firm Medichecks, which was then analysed.
‘Normal levels should be 50 to 200 nanomols per litre, which is a scientific measure of concentration,’ explains Dr Rodgers, who interpreted the results. ‘Anything under 50 is regarded as insufficient and would need attention.’
Not everyone will exhibit symptoms in the early stages. And since initial symptoms include tiredness, it is easy to confuse a lack of Vitamin D with feeling run-down.
As the problem increases, deficiency can cause chronic bone and muscle pain.
However, too much Vitamin D can cause an abnormally high blood calcium level, leading to nausea, constipation, abnormal heart rhythm and kidney stones.
‘However, we had our first sunshine holiday for four years during the summer, spending a week in Crete.
‘I like to think I have a very healthy diet since I don’t eat any processed foods, and I occasionally use a vegan Vitamin D3 spray made from mushrooms and lichen.
‘I guess I’m just far less diligent in the summer as I thought it was just during winter I had to be vigilant.
‘I’m still shocked that I’m deficient in Vitamin D. I suppose I need to be more organised.’
Dr Rodgers says: ‘As a vegan, Tony is missing out on oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, which is the key dietary source of Vitamin D.
‘Having ten eggs will still provide less Vitamin D than one portion of oily fish. Being overweight has also been linked to a lack of vitamin.
‘A 2013 study suggested that Vitamin D may become ‘trapped’ inside fat tissue so that less of it is available to circulate inside the blood.
‘Tony says he occasionally uses a spray, but this won’t have much effect if used arbitrarily.
‘He needs to take a daily 10mcg supplement and get outside, too.
‘He should avoid walking in the forests near his home as the trees will block the sunlight.
‘He needs to expose his face, chest and arms to the light whenever he gets a chance.’
THE FITNESS FAN
Clare Delmar, 55, brand director at Nuada Medical, lives in London with her husband Brian and their three children.
Clare says: ‘I have a very busy job but away from the office I love being active and keeping fit, especially outdoors.
‘There is a rowing club close to our home, so I go rowing two to three times a week – even in winter – and can be out for about 90 minutes at a time.
‘Otherwise I’ll go running for around 45 minutes three times a week and try to do some cycling at weekends.
‘Even though I’m fair-skinned, I don’t tend to use suncream when I’m out exercising.
‘I do eat healthily – but my real addiction is Greek yogurt. I have a big pot every morning with honey and almonds.’
Dr Rodgers says: ‘Clare has very healthy levels of Vitamin D thanks to all the outdoor exercise she gets.
‘From a health perspective, the Vitamin D will help absorb all that calcium from Greek yogurt she eats and so keep her bones healthy.
‘Rowing is particularly good since she will be getting reflected light from the water.’
A combination of overcast British weather and a rise in indoor, computer-based activities is thought to have triggered many deficiencies in Vitamin D, says Dr Sam Rodgers, Medical Adviser to MediChecks
THE COFFEE DRINKER
Paul Longmire, 30, who lives in Wigan, is head of marketing for Gorvins solicitors.
Paul says: ‘I have a really busy job. I’m either working in front of my computer or having meetings in boardrooms.
‘If I am out of the office, I tend to be on my way to more meetings or working lunches. I rarely get time to go out at lunchtime for the sake of it.
‘I do sit next to a lovely big window at work, so I do enjoy the sunshine but from the inside of an office.
‘That’s not a bad thing, since I am very pale and burn easily. Even if I put sunscreen on, I just fry.
‘I go to the gym four or five times a week and I am trying to keep healthy, though I admit to being a smoker.
‘And I drink a lot of tea and coffee every day. In fact, they joke in the office because I use an enormous mug for my daily brews. I try to eat healthily but prefer meat to fish.’
Dr Rodgers says: ‘Coffee and caffeine-containing drinks can reduce the amount of Vitamin D that people absorb, so Paul should cut back to a couple of drinks a day.
‘Caffeine also causes calcium to be excreted in the urine, so it compounds the effect of their low levels.
‘Smokers also seem to have lower levels of Vitamin D – another reason to quit.
‘Paul is clearly in good physical shape but he simply needs to get outside more. He could swap a couple of gym sessions for jogging outside.
‘And if he has work lunches, perhaps choose a restaurant or cafe with outdoor tables.
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel is the key dietary source of Vitamin D, Dr Rodgers says
‘Since he isn’t getting any real light in the office, he should drive home with the windows open and his sleeves rolled up so that the sunlight hits his face and arms.
‘He should also eat oily fish at least twice a week.’
THE SUN WORSHIPPER
Gemma Johnson, 41, a fitness teacher, lives in Brighton with her husband Geoffrey and three children.
She says: ‘I love the sun and need no excuse to bask in the garden if the weather is good. And since I have olive skin, I don’t worry too much about sun protection.
‘I’d never even heard of Vitamin D deficiency until a few months ago when I visited my doctor.
‘I’d been feeling really tired and started to experience a strange burning in my leg muscles when I walked up the stairs.
‘He carried out some blood tests and found that my Vitamin D level was below 50.
‘He suggested I start taking a supplement, so I bought some tablets and after a couple of weeks I felt better, so I stopped taking them.
‘I’ve recently spent two weeks soaking up the sun in Cornwall, so when I took this test I expected my results to be sky-high. I was really disappointed that I’m only borderline.’
Dr Rodgers says: ‘People with darker skin like Gemma have greater protection from strong sunlight because they have large amounts of the pigment melanin.
‘But because of this, they need three to five times longer in the sun to make the same amount of Vitamin D as someone with a paler skin tone.
A daily pill can help to increase Vitamin D levels and reduce the risk of skin cancer (stock)
‘For similar reasons, a tan could actually hamper Vitamin D absorption, as well as increasing the risk of skin cancer.
‘Gemma is borderline at the moment – but remember she took this test in the summer and her winter levels will only drop further.
‘She needs to eat oily fish and fortified cereal, and start taking a daily supplement again.’
THE OFFICE WORKER
Susanna Murray-Burton, 30, is a digital media specialist. She is single and lives in London.
Susanna says: ‘My office is in a basement without any natural light and I work from 8.30am to 6pm every day.
‘I also commute on the Tube, meaning that I have quite a subterranean existence. So I was thrilled to find out I wasn’t deficient in Vitamin D.
‘I do go out religiously for about 20 minutes every lunchtime just for some fresh air and to buy a sandwich.
‘And I sometimes go running in the evening, especially when it’s warm and sunny.
‘My mum was recently diagnosed as being deficient in Vitamin D.
‘I mentioned this to a nutritionist and dermatologist and he advised me to eat more oily fish, so now I make sure I have at least two portions every week.’
Dr Rodgers says 20 minutes of direct exposure on the arms, face and neck a day is what many people need (stock)
Dr Rodgers says: ‘Susanna has the recommended amount of at least two portions of oily fish a week and gets out in the sunshine as much as she can.
‘Obviously we have to be careful about the dangers of too much sun exposure because of the risk of skin cancer.
‘But 20 minutes of direct exposure on the arms, face and neck a day is what she needs.
‘However, she should be concerned about keeping her levels up in the winter since she has no natural light in her office.’
THE SKINCARE SPECIALIST
Kathryn Cheston, 57, has a vintage clothing business. She lives in Brighton with her husband Paul, 60.
Kathryn says: ‘I am extremely careful about protecting my skin from the sun, as I’m at that age when I don’t want to get wrinkles.
‘I have been told I have good skin for my age and I’d like to keep it like that if I can. I even wear factor 15 suncream in the winter.
‘Living near the sea, my skin can take a real battering from the sun, the wind and the salt.
‘I work inside and it’s easy to let the hours go by without getting out, but if I can I go walking about once a week for an hour.
‘I try to eat a balanced diet too, though I would like to lose about a stone and a half.’
Dr Rodgers says: ‘It’s important for women of Kathryn’s age to ensure their Vitamin D levels are sufficient.
‘After the menopause, there will be less bone reserve and lower levels of calcium.
‘Together with a fall in the levels of oestrogen, that could contribute to osteoporosis.
‘I appreciate that Kathryn wants to protect her skin, but she needs to avoid suncream during the winter months.
‘The effect of the sun’s rays in terms of wrinkles is negligible. Losing some weight will also help increase her levels of Vitamin D.
‘Kathryn needs to take a supplement but she should also do more to increase her sun exposure.
‘The time needed to make Vitamin D is typically short – about 20 minutes of exposure at midday.
‘She should try to get some brief exposure to the sun, while taking care not to burn and avoiding deliberate tanning.
‘That way she can protect her skin and hopefully raise her Vitamin D levels.’