Everyone wants to know whether they are Vitamin D deficient right now, especially if you don’t have a garden. Or perhaps you have teenagers who won’t take their daily exercise – meaning they’re not getting the correct dose of sun exposure required for their bodies to make Vitamin D, vital for bone health and mood.
But what if I told you that you only need 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day? Or, that even if you sat out in the sun all day (not recommended as the risks from UV exposure outweigh those of Vitamin D deficiency) you would still need to supplement to reach the recommended 400 units per day (which, experts say should in fact be much higher than that). This is everything you need to know about Vitamin D, including how to get enough without going outdoors.
What is Vitamin D and how does the body absorb it?
Henrietta Norton, Nutrition and Co-Founder of Wild Nutrition explains: “Technically Vitamin D not a vitamin; it functions more like a hormone which means it is an important nutrient. When your skin is exposed to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays), it is able to synthesize Vitamin D which your liver and kidneys metabolize to make it biologically active.
What does Vitamin D actually do?
Pharmacist Shabir Daya from Victoria Health explains: “ Vitamin D is thought to be more multifaceted than we first thought. Virtually every gland in the body has a Vitamin D receptor, so it is vital to all of our bodily processes.
“It has a role in boosting our immune system, it regulates insulin, helps with brain function and anxiety. There’s even been a strong link shown between Vitamin D deficiency and gum disease, as well as with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne as low Vitamin D is linked with inflammation.”
Henrietta Norton adds, “Vitamin D is fundamentally needed to help your body absorb calcium – so it’s critical for bone and teeth health. It also plays a part in immune health and it is widely discussed within the scientific community for its role in autoimmunity, gut health, respiratory health, and the response to viral infections.”
“Low levels are associated with sleep disorders, depression and low moods, and it is also very important for female health – conditions such as PCOS or endometriosis as both are associated with low levels of Vitamin D. For example, an excellent level of Vitamin D is needed when trying to conceive and during pregnancy or breast feeding,” she explains.
How much sun exposure is required?
“Your body makes some Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and some from a healthy diet, but the recommended amount of time is only 10-15 minutes of unprotected sunlight per day – which means that even in lockdown you won’t be at risk so long as you take a supplement,” Daya points out.
Note: You cannot access UVB rays through glass, so sitting in a sunny window will not help you to increase your Vitamin D levels. Sunshine needs to directly hit the skin for your body to reap the benefits.
How much can you get from your diet?
“Only 10 % of our Vitamin D intake comes from food – our main provider being sunlight,” explains Henrietta Norton. Shabir Daya adds, “Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is found in egg yolks, mushrooms, oily fish, and some fortified foods such as cereals. Milk is often fortified with Vitamin D, including some non-dairy milk, but you need to check the labels.”
Why you need a Vitamin D supplement – and the recommended daily dose
“The World Health Organisation suggests that everyone takes a Vitamin D supplement regardless of sun exposure or diet. These are available in capsules, tablets and sprays,” says Daya.
Capsules and tablets
The stomach is extremely acidic (PH 1) so it’s estimated that 40% 50% of any vitamin you take orally is lost through the digestive system. Therefore if you prefer taking a pill, go for at least 1000 units to ensure you meet the daily 400 units of Vitamin D per day.”
Sprays are a clever hack
He adds, “a clever way to bypass the digestive system is to use an oral spritz that you spray inside the cheek, which will be ingested directly into the bloodstream through the myriad of blood vessels inside the cheek lining, bypassing the digestive tract. I recommend Dlux 3000 spray, which contains 3000 international units in one spray. While that sounds like a lot, scientists are now pointing to 4000-5000 units per day.”
What if I’m vegan?
“If you do not eat meat, oily fish, dairy or eggs (good food sources) you will not be getting any dietary access to vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the form of Vitamin D that the body produces (plants contain D2). Therefore, vegetarians and especially vegans need to be extra careful about monitoring their Vitamin D levels,” says Henrietta Norton. See our recommended vegan Vitamin D supplement listed below.
Why healthy fats are important for the absorption of Vitamin D
If you don’t eat fatty foods, you could have issues with absorption of Vitamin D3. As Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, if you have a low-fat diet it will limit your access to Vitamin D3. If you don’t eggs or eat oily fish try taking a spoonful of coconut oil to help the absorption of fortified foods, such as cereals and soya milk.
How Vitamin D improves your skin
“Vitamin D is involved in calming inflammation which is good for anyone suffering with eczema and psoriasis as well as those with acne. When you reduce inflammation, the sebaceous glands produce less oil,” explains Daya.
Dr Marko Lens, Creator & Founder of Zelens says, “we do not get the Vitamin D we need for our body via skincare. However Vitamin D still plays a vital role in skincare and is used to boost the immune system of the skin, reinforce its barrier function and offer protection against environmental insults. Because Vitamin D is a lipid it is well absorbed through the skin.”