Did you know that Vitamin D is known to be important for good overall health, as well as contributing to strong and healthy bones?
As we go into and through the winter, NHS Western Isles is reminding islanders on its importance and the steps you can take to improve your own Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D (specifically Vitamin D3 which increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium) is an important factor in ensuring our muscles, heart, lungs and brain work well and helping our body to fight infection.
Normally, our bodies would make most of the Vitamin D it needs through sunlight with the recommended 10-15 minutes of unprotected Scottish sunshine every day (whilst taking care not to get red or burnt).
However, this is difficult due to our traditional Hebridean weather, as well as the use of products that contain sunscreen, such as creams and makeup.
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic this year, it is also recognised that many people may not have been able to spend as much time outdoors, compared to previous years.
Although the body can create most of its own vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, those living in Scotland only receive enough sunlight for approximately half of the year. For the remainder of the year, those living in Scotland are dependent on Vitamin D stores that have been built up within their bodies during the summer months and on other sources such as dietary intake and supplements.
We can receive small amounts of Vitamin D from foods that we eat. Foods that are richer in Vitamin D are oily fish (both fresh and tinned) such as salmon, mackerel, trout, kippers and sardines, and eggs and meat. We can also obtain Vitamin D from some cereals, soya and dairy products, powdered milks and low-fat spreads and margarines, although amounts in some of these products vary and are often quite small.
Having low Vitamin D levels are recognised as a particular issue for all pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children under 5 years, adults aged 65 years and over, black/other darker-skinned minority ethnic or mixed race groups, and those with limited exposure to sunlight. Pregnant women must also ensure that not only their own requirement for Vitamin D is met, but that they also build up adequate stores in the developing foetus for early infancy.
Dr. Benjamin Jacobs, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, said, " Vitamin D is recognised as being essential for healthy bones, anyone who lacks it is at risk of health problems.
"In the UK we have a lack of Vitamin D in our food and we take few supplements. We also have a lack of sunshine. The UK is quite far from the equator, so in the winter it’s just not possible to form Vitamin D for four months or more during October to April. As you go north in the UK, the Vitamin D winter gets longer and longer, so up at the north of Scotland, for most of the year, it’s difficult or impossible to get enough Vitamin D from sunshine."
Research also reports that Vitamin D is important in preventing and treating a number of serious long-term health problems, including rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Studies are also continuing on how the lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter months is linked to immune-mediated diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
To boost our Vitamin D levels we should all take Vitamin D supplements, which can be purchased from local supermarkets and chemists, or online. It should be noted that purchasing lesser-priced/generic Vitamin D supplements can be just as effective (and more cost-effective) as purchasing those supplements at a higher price/brand name.
At this time, parents of children aged under four years can receive their free Healthy Start Child Vitamin Drops from their family Health Visitor or GP Practice. Pregnant women will receive a pack of Healthy Start Pregnancy Tablets from their Midwife, which will last for the duration of their pregnancy.
NHS Western Isles would also like to highlight the four Vitamin D short films it previously produced, which feature local individuals.
- The ‘Importance of Vitamin D’ film can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/186196334
- The ‘How do I get Vitamin D?’ film can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/186185806
- The ‘Healthy Start Scheme’ film can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/186205009
- The ‘Bone Health: Vitamin D’ animated film can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/296374851