Should We All Be Taking Vitamin D Supplements In Winter?

For many, the winter months mean leaving for work in the dark, coming home in the dark and spending all day in an office lit by fluorescent lights. Without the blue skies of summer, your skin isn’t soaking up much sunlight for your body to create vitamin D.

Between the months of January and March, more than a quarter of adults (29 percent) in the UK are vitamin D deficient. To tackle this, Public Health England has suggested that from October to March everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements. It seems like an easy fix: not enough sunlight? Just take a pill instead.

Earlier this year, research firm Mintel reported that vitamin D overtook vitamin C as the UK’s most used supplement. But for those who aren’t lacking the vitamin, supplements could prove to be completely unnecessary. So is it really worth everyone taking on extra vitamin D?

First, physiology. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium – a key ingredient in keeping bones strong. Severe deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults where the bones are softened.

In the world of medicine, vitamin D has taken on almost mythic properties. Recently it was found that every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor, and so the benefits of maintaining a healthy level could be more than we currently realize. This is why studies into the impact of vitamin D are experiencing a boom at the moment, with some claiming that deficiency can increase the risk of multiple sclerosis, diabetes or even cancer.

The UK government has been advised by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) that everyone should try to get 10 micrograms per day of vitamin D. SACN found that there was an increased risk of poor musculoskeletal health when the concentration of vitamin D in the blood dipped below 25 nmol/L. It concluded that the best way to prevent it from falling below this level was to suggest a supplement.

It’s a better-to-be-safe-than-sorry approach as in the UK we don’t get our milk fortified with vitamin D, unlike other countries such as the US. You can get vitamin D from dietary sources like fatty fish and leafy greens, but not enough to provide what you need in the winter. Supplements seem like the ideal solution, though many people end up taking it without knowing what it’s actually doing for them.

The Vitamin D Council suggests that this problem, called hypercalcemia, can be caused by taking over 250mcg per day over a period of months. This means that while supplements shouldn’t be taken in large quantities or when you don’t need them, like in summer, taking a 10mcg tablet every day won’t cause too much harm. “As long as you’re not simultaneously downing a lot of calcium in the way of supplements are our dairy products then it’s probably pretty safe,” Zawada says.

Read the complete article at Wired