What is vitamin D?

Should I take a vitamin D supplement? We give you the lowdown on the sunshine vitamin

It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of vitamin D all year round. Especially now with most of us spending more time indoors because of the coronavirus lockdown.

You’ve probably got questions. What does it do? Where do I get it from? Well, we’re glad you asked! Stick with us, we’re about to tell-all.

Vitamin D 101

Vitamin D helps to control the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies to help keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. It’s also great for supporting our immune system too – clever stuff! We in the UK usually get most of our vitamin D from sunlight (between late March/early April and the end of September), but a small number of foods contain it too.

Vitamin D from sunlight

Our main source of vitamin D comes from the sun, our bodies create it from direct sunlight hitting our skin when we're outdoors in the sunshine. During spring and summer is when we get the most sunlight exposure in the UK, so at this time of the year, most people will be able to get all the vitamin D they need by being outside each day for a short period.

And the talents of vitamin D don’t stop there! When we’re basking in sunshine (don’t forget your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses), our bodies can make and store enough vitamin D to last us a few weeks – amazing, right?

Vitamin D in foods

Unlike other vitamins, it’s hard to get enough of your daily recommended amount of vitamin D from food, but you can find small amounts in some everyday foods like:

• Fatty fish, like fresh tuna, mackerel, and salmon

• Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals

• Cheese

• Egg yolks

Should I be taking a vitamin D supplement?

During the autumn and winter, the sun isn’t strong enough for the body to make vitamin D, unless you’re spending your winter in a hot climate (lucky you!). That’s why adults and children over five years of age are already advised to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D during autumn and winter to keep levels topped up.

But with the large majority of us spending most of our time inside right now, we may not be getting enough sunlight and, therefore, enough vitamin D as we may need – that’s where a daily supplement comes in handy. It’s super important for our health that we keep our levels of vitamin D in tip-top form, so following the updated NHS guidance for us all to consider taking a 10 µg supplement every day during the current coronavirus pandemic is a great place to start.

Although it can’t protect us from catching things like coronavirus or the flu, vitamin D will help to keep your immune system, bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Just so you know, we constantly update all of our vitamins with the latest government advice, so you’re OK to follow our guidance.

People at risk of vitamin D deficiency

Some people are more likely to be low on vitamin D (deficient) if they have limited access to sunshine. If you usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when you’re outdoors, are not often outdoors due to illness or disability, or have dark skin – for example, you have an African, African-Caribbean or South Asian background – it’s recommended you take a vitamin D supplement of 10 µg all year round.


Advice for infants & children

We all know calcium is essential for keeping bones strong and healthy, but our bodies struggle to absorb calcium without vitamin D. 

Breastfed babies from birth to one year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 µg of vitamin D all year round, whilst formula-fed babies, if they are having more than 500ml of infant formula a day, shouldn’t be given a supplement as infant formula is already fortified with enough vitamin D.

Children aged one to four should be given a 10 µg supplement of vitamin D each day all year round, and to make sure they’re getting enough of the other vitamins, it’s advised by the government to give them a daily supplement containing vitamins A and C from six months of age up to the age of five.

Vitamin D2 & D3

The two most important forms of vitamin D you can find are D2 and D3. D2 is produced by plants, and D3 is made by your skin from sunlight. Research shows that D3 is generally better absorbed by the body than D2, so it may be worth taking a vitamin D3 supplement or one that contains enough of both. 

Vitamin D3 supplements are usually suitable for vegetarians but, depending on the type you buy, they may not be suitable for vegans – so it’s worth checking the individual product labels. Vitamin D2 can be suitable for vegans.

Can I take too much vitamin D?

If you choose to take a vitamin D supplement, 10 µg a day will be enough for most people. If your GP has recommended taking a higher dose, you should continue to follow their advice. If you’re outside catching those rays, always remember your sunscreen!

And there you have it, the A to Z of vitamin D.