Adequate stores of this sunshine vitamin are essential for good health over the winter months..

Most of us are aware that Vitamin D regulates levels of calcium in our body to maintain healthy bones, avoiding Rickets as children, or Osteomalacia as adults. But increasing evidence over the last 30 years has highlighted other functions of Vitamin D, in particular, its role in ensuring a healthy immune system.

  95% of our Vitamin D comes from the action of the sunshine on our skin. The UV rays, initiate the process by which our bodies convert a form of cholesterol into Vitamin D, hence it’s other name, the Sunshine Vitamin.

  There are only trace amounts of Vitamin D in our diet, so we are dependent on the Vitamin D stores that we build up in the summer, to supply our vitamin D through autumn and into winter.

  How much do we need? The amount of Vitamin D we need for a healthy immune system is three times more than that required to maintain healthy bones. It’s impossible to meet those requirements from food but 10 minutes of full summer sun every day meets your daily requirements.


Oily fish provides the best food source of vitamin D. Other oily fish like salmon and mackerel are good too. 

Bite-sized interest - Cod Liver Oil

In 1849, doctors discovered the ability of cod liver oil to help cure Tuberculosis – we now know this was due to its rich source of vitamin D benefiting the immune system.

Eggs, wild mushrooms (they need sun to synthesise Vit D too) and milk contain trace amounts only. Some milk and cereals are fortified with. Vitamin D, but this is not yet a legal requirement in the UK.

WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?  There is now good evidence showing that low levels of Vitamin D across the UK population are a concern. Adequate levels of vitamin D in children under 5 years, during pregnancy and in the elderly to prevent bone disease have always been a concern. However, as our lifestyles have become less active, with many of us inside the workplace and technology encouraging children to be indoors, so have our levels of vitamin D suffered – rickets is now a concern again – and so is the healthy functioning of our immune system in the whole UK population.*

*Public Health England Vitamin D and Health report 2016

WHY THE UK?  Our Northern hemisphere location and increasing cloud cover in the summer reduce the UV rays we’re exposed to compared to countries nearer the equator. In addition a darker skin colour or wearing clothes to limit skin exposure increases the risk of low vitamin D. The odds are stacked against us…… we just don’t get enough sunshine! Small wonder then, that 10% of the population suffer from flu in the winter months…when our Vitamin D is at its lowest.

WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?  The scientific advisory committee to the government has spent the last four years assessing the evidence and last year Public Health England recommended Vit D supplementation from October to April in the UK… but care is needed, higher levels of Vitamin D aren’t right for everyone – certain medications make Vit D toxicity a potential problem so medical advice may be required for some. A daily winter dose of 10 micrograms (400IU) is now recommended from 4 years old, and available from most pharmacies.  You can read more about this here

Thinking ahead to the Spring – enjoy some gardening with young children, get out into the countryside at the weekend and absorb those rays – it only takes 10 minutes of summer sun each day to maintain adequate vitamin D levels, a safe exposure, especially when the midday sun is avoided.

WHAT ABOUT WINTER SUN? Even bright winter days won’t top up your vitamin D as the actual UV rays reaching your skin are very low. 

So, as we leave summer behind, top up your vitamin D over the winter and look forward to making the most of next year’s sunshine!

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Dr Lucy Williamson Msc

I am a freelance registered Nutritionist working in greater London, to inform and inspire better health for all, through Nutrition. I would be delighted to hear from you! Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolo magna aliqua.

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