One of the consequences of living under Covid-restrictions such as lockdown means that we're staying indoors more and going outside less. As a result, we're getting less direct sunlight, which is our best source of vitamin D.
Even before lockdown, an estimated one in five people in the UK had low vitamin D levels (1), so now's the perfect time to look at how to top up your vitamin D levels and how doing so could lead to numerous health benefits.
What is Vitamin D?
Sometimes called the 'sunshine supplement' because your body produces it naturally when exposed to sunlight, vitamin D helps regulate your calcium and phosphate levels, which help keep your bones, muscles, and teeth in tip-top shape.
A vitamin D deficiency can cause bone deformities (such as rickets) and bone pain (such as osteomalacia and osteoporosis). That's why the NHS recommends adults (and children from the age of one year) need 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day (2).
What are the benefits of Vitamin D?
Studies have shown that vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium (3). A lack of vitamin D can lead to insufficient calcium absorption which forces the body to use its existing calcium stores which results in weakened bones.
Boosts the immune system
Vitamin D deficiency can affect key cells of the immune system making you more susceptible to autoimmune diseases. Research has shown that a sufficient amount of the 'sunshine supplement' can clearly benefit immune health (4).
Your vitamin D levels can also affect your sports performance levels. As well as benefiting VO2 max and 30-second sprint performance (5), one study noted reduced muscle damage following a 30-minute downhill running test (6).
Speaking to ITV News, Sabyasachi Sen, a professor of endocrinology and medicine at George Washington University said, "Low vitamin D has been associated with increased conditions of obesity, metabolic syndrome and so on and so forth. You definitely don't want to be deficient in it (7)." Further studies suggest that vitamin D can also decrease the risk of heart disease (8) and reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis (9) and flu (10).
How to top up your Vitamin D
As I said earlier, sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, but when a mixture of lockdowns and bad weather rains on that parade, there are other options available to ensure you get your daily dose of 10 micrograms.
The following foods are among those considered a good source of vitamin D - red meat, oily fish (such as salmon and sardines) and egg yolks - or you can also take a daily vitamin D supplement which the girls who follow my Feel Look Be programme do.
Vitamin D and Coronavirus
In November 2020, the UK government announced that it would offer four months of free vitamin D supplements to people in care homes and those shielding from the Covid-19 pandemic (11). So, is there a link between vitamin D and Coronavirus?
Well, one study found that 80% of those who 'succumbed to the disease' were low on vitamin D12 and another suggested that giving high doses of vitamin D early in treatment could cut deaths by 60% (13).
These were small studies and it's clear that more research is needed but it's fair to say that staying on top of your vitamin D levels is only a good thing.