Are you finding yourself looking longingly out of the window at the grey January skies and pouring rain, wishing you were instead overlooking a clear blue horizon, sitting on a beach soaking up the sun? January has certainly crept up on us and it is around this time of year that our feelings of nostalgia come from a yearning to return to the summer.
It is therefore ironic that year after year we spend more time complaining of the little sun we see than actually basking in its radiance, although we do have cause for our discontent. In the UK we expect around 510 hours of sunshine for the whole summer (about 5 ½ hours a day), but many of us will spend these vital hours of the warmer months working indoors. Such a restricted amount of access to the glorious summer sun is often the cause for our ailments and depression at this time of year, especially since 50% of us will enter the winter season with low levels of the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D.
A growing nutritional concern is the large proportion of the UK population who are at risk of a range of potentially debilitating symptoms brought on by a deficiency of Vitamin D. This vital vitamin has been shown to have positive effects on cellular health, cancer prevention, immunity, bone and brain health and emotional wellbeing. Research shows however that 25% of us are actually deficient in vitamin D and cases of rickets in children have increased more than 400% since 1996. The Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies raised her concerns with health professionals regarding a rise in vitamin D related conditions, asking them earlier this year to consider vitamin D supplementation for at risk groups, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, infants and young children aged 6 months to 5 years and people aged 65 and over.
Vitamin D deficiency can manifest in a number of ways. Symptoms are often very vague such as tiredness or general aches, and as such, the problem is often missed. Yet, this nutritional deficiency can be quite easily corrected. Firstly, it is important to note that 90% of the body’s vitamin D is absorbed through sunlight and sun exposure to the arms and legs for 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient. The other 10% comes from food with oily fish such as salmon and sardines being the best dietary source. Unfortunately, unlike America, there is little or no vitamin D enriched in milk and dairy products in the UK, however some margarines and cereals are fortified. Therefore supplementation is a great way to boost levels. Vitamin D is present in a range of dietary supplements (including fish oil products), and tablets are generally the most accepted way of gaining this vitamin. The cost of supplements is less than £5/year, and the benefits far exceed those of simply preventing clicky knees!
So until the sun comes out again, be aware and look after your vitamin D levels.