What is vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium it needs to keep your bones and muscles strong and healthy. People with very low levels of vitamin D (moderate to severe deficiency) are also at risk of developing health problems.
Most people get their vitamin D when they expose bare skin to ultraviolet B (UVB) light from the sun. Food alone cannot provide an adequate amount of vitamin D and most people are reliant on sun exposure to reach recommended levels. Foods that contain small amounts of vitamin D include fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel and herring), liver, eggs, margarines and some milk products.
The amount of time you need in the sun depends on several things, including where you live, the season, time of day, your skin colour and the amount of skin exposed. However, during summer, most people can get adequate vitamin D from just 15-25 minutes outside between 10am and 2pm. Always follow safe sun guidelines because too much sun can increase your risk of skin cancer and may cause the vitamin D in your skin to break down.
You may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:
- stay mostly indoors for health, work or other reasons
- have naturally dark skin
- cover your body for religious or cultural reasons
- avoid the sun for skin protection or due to medical reasons
- are obese
- have a health condition that affects vitamin D absorption from your diet
- take medicines that cause vitamin D to break down
- are a baby of a vitamin D deficient mother
What happens if I don’t have enough vitamin D?
Moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets (soft bones) in infants and children. Low vitamin D levels can lead to osteoporosis and increase your risk of falls and fractures (broken bones) if you are over 50.
People with very low levels of vitamin D (moderate to severe deficiency) are the most at risk of developing health problems. A number of diseases have been linked to low vitamin D levels such as increased risk of death. Research suggests that vitamin D could play a role in the prevention and treatment of a number of different conditions such as: