In summer months, the majority of the population will get enough vitamin D through exposure to sunlight and a healthy, balanced diet. Between October and early March the NHS says we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight, so you need to get vitamin D from your diet. Around 20 percent of adults may have low vitamin D status, and there are several main risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.
Dietary vitamin D is available in foods such as oily fish, cod liver oil, red meat, fortified cereals, fortified spreads and egg yolks.
In the UK, milk is not fortified with vitamin D, so dairy products contain only small amounts of vitamin D.
The NHS says risk factors include a lack of sunlight exposure, darker skin, being housebound, malabsorption, and being pregnant or breastfeeding.
Symptoms can include muscle aches and weakness, waddling gait, chronic widespread pain or bone pain in lower back, pelvis and foot.
Holland & Barrett says 90 percent of the vitamin D in our bodies needs to come from getting out in the sunlight and only 10 percent is from your diet.
The health site warns: “Even if you eat fortified foods, you could be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Symptoms of low vitamin D vary from person to person.”
One sign is head sweats, as a common “early sign” of vitamin D deficiency is a sweaty scalp.
It says low mood, weak muscles, getting sick often, and weight gain can also be signs of a vitamin deficiency.
Falling short of the required amount could weaken immune defences, but if low levels are left untreated, discomfort may also arise.
Over-supplementation of vitamin D, however, can be just as harmful and should be avoided.
The NHS says taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body which can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.
You cannot overdose on vitamin D through exposure to sunlight.
The health body adds that reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus are not backed by enough evidence to know if this is the case.
“There is currently not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D solely to prevent or treat COVID-19,” it says.
In April 2020, the NHS issued a statement, based on recommendations from Public Health England (PHE), that we should all consider taking 10 mcg/day vitamin D as a supplement, to keep our bones and muscles healthy.
This advice has been issued now, largely because of the restrictions imposed by quarantine and lockdown.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding ask your midwife or health visitor for information around vitamin D intake.
If you or someone you care for is in a higher risk group they may need to take Vitamin D supplements.
You can take Vitamin D supplements as tablets, liquid or a spray, and they can be bought in a pharmacy.