Dr Phil Dyer on the health benefits of Vitamin D

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Monthly Health with Heartlands Hospital

This month, HeartlandsHospital’s Dr Phil Dyer talks about the health benefits of vitamin D.

 

With the short days and long dark nights of winter, it’s easy at this time of year to dream of sunnier days or imagine holidays to far flung golden locations.

But sunlight isn’t just good for your mental outlook – researchers have found that exposure to the sun can help your physical well being too.

Although we’re all familiar with the warnings that come from too much sun exposure, medics have recently been pointing out the health benefits we gain from vitamin D, which is made inside the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of vitamin D in helping to prevent cancer, including prostate cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer. It is also crucial in strengthening bones, preventing disorders such as rickets, and keeping teeth healthy.

During winter it can be difficult to for our bodies to produce enough of this vitamin, as much of the UK is too far north to benefit from the required sunlight. Instead we rely on excesses of vitamin D stored up in the liver during summer months.

Research suggests that up to nine out of ten people of South Asian origin living in the UK may be deficient in vitamin D. Symptoms can include muscle pains and painful bones, particularly the hips and legs while walking. The best treatment in winter is to boost your vitamin D intake, by modifying your diet and, if necessary, taking supplements.

Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and dairy products. Pregnant women and some babies may particularly benefit from a vitamin D supplement – you should consult your doctor for advice if you are taking any medications or suffer from any ongoing conditions. Breastfeeding mums should take particular care to ensure that their intake is high enough, as deficiency in babies is particularly common in breast-fed babies whose mothers have low levels of the vitamin. Again, you should talk to your GP if taking supplements while breastfeeding to ensure that the dose is correct.

One study found that children of Asian ethnicity were at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than their white counterparts, as people with darker skin pigmentation are less able to absorb vitamin D from sunlight. The study recommended that children under the age of two should be considered for vitamin D supplements.

During summer months you should be able to get all of the vitamin D you require from exposure to the sun – on average around 10 minutes exposure of face and hands should be enough. People with darker skins need to spend more time in the sun to get the same level of exposure.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it can easily be stored in the body for future use. Spending time outdoors is the best way to stock up on this particular vitamin but where you can’t you should look to eat a varied diet to ensure that all of your requirements are met.

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