Diet: replenish vitamin D when the sun is shining

WE are ready for nice weather this weekend so let’s make the most of it and go outside to replenish vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D has been hot news in recent years, and the Covid pandemic has shed new light on its role in immune support.

We have known for some time that vitamin D does a lot more than just protect us from developing rickets. From cardiovascular support to immune balance, mood, and muscles, this is a hard working fat-soluble vitamin that affects every cell in your body.

Sunshine and sun protection factor

Although it is an essential nutrient, the main source of vitamin D is not from food, but from the sun. Our skin forms vitamin D when it comes into contact with the sun’s UVB rays.

The use of sunscreen is important to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, but it stops vitamin D synthesis. While wearing sun protection is important, it’s also a good idea to leave your skin unprotected in the sun for about 15 minutes on most days in summer, being careful not to burn your skin.

Roll up your sleeves and legs, or put on shorts and a T-shirt, leaving your forearms, hands or lower legs free. Just be careful not to burn yourself … If your skin is light or freckled you may need less time and if your skin is darker it may take you longer to get the vitamin D conversion going.

This is safe for most people in our climate most days. If you’ve been outside for a long time, or if you notice your skin turning red, make sure you cover yourself and use some sun protection factor.

Don’t forget that prolonged exposure to the sun without sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.

Who should add?

It is recommended that you supplement with vitamin D between October and May, but if you are not outdoors much, it may be worthwhile to extend your supplementation over the summer months as well.

There are some groups of people who are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency and who are recommended to take daily supplements all year round.

This contains:

  • Pregnant women, breast-fed babies and all children under the age of five.
  • Older adults – the body’s ability to produce vitamin D decreases by at least half between the ages of 20 and 80.
  • Those who spend a limited amount of time outside – home chained, hospitalized, living in a nursing home or facility.
  • Obesity and underweight both increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Darker skin tone – African and Asian populations have built-in sun protection and require at least 3-5 times longer exposure to the sun.
  • Where you live and what time of year – the further away you are from the equator the risk of deficiency increases, as well as in autumn and winter, so that due to our geographical location and the lack of long, hot summers we are at an increased risk of vitamin D Defects are exposed to days.

When to add?

In general, most people are advised to take a vitamin D supplement between October and May when we don’t have that much sunshine, but organizations like Public Health England have recently advocated giving everyone a daily vitamin throughout the year -D supplement should be taken around, and not just in the cooler months.

With many of us heading to the north coast or Donegal on summer vacation, there may be fewer opportunities for an extra boost of the “sun vitamin” during our vacation, so taking a vitamin D supplement can help raise levels we are less likely to go into autumn with low vitamin D levels.