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Getting enough vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones.

Everyone needs vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from their diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones and teeth.

A lack of vitamin D - known as vitamin D deficiency - can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities. In adults, it can lead to osteomalacia, which causes bone pain and tenderness.

Vitamin D facts

Exposure to sunlight is the best way to boost vitamin D stores in the body but only during April to September. For most people in the UK, exposing arms and face without sunscreen up to 15 minutes a day (around 11am - 3pm) without burning is enough to produce vitamin D during these months.

Between October and March the UK sunshine is not strong enough to help the body make vitamin D. Instead our body relies on our body stores and food during the winter months.

The reasons for this are:

  • it is harder for the skin to convert sunshine into vitamin D
  • we are likely to spend more time indoors
  • we tend to wear more layers of clothing outdoors.

People with darker skin are also more at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. For these reasons it is recommended that a daily vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms) should be taken.

While eating a well-balanced diet is important for overall health, there is not enough vitamin D in food to achieve good levels. Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon contain natural sources of vitamin D and margarines, some breakfast cereals and powdered milk are fortified with vitamin D. 

It is recommended that people who are aged 65 years or over or aren't exposed to much sun - for example, those who cover up their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods - should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D

You can buy single vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D at most pharmacies and supermarkets.

Do not take more than 25 micrograms (0.025mg) a day, as it could be harmful. However, taking less than this is unlikely to cause any harm.

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