Humans and Health

Vitamin D Deficiency Is Incredibly Common, Yet We Often Don’t Even Notice

man in sunlight
Imogen Simmonds

1 in 6 UK adults lack vitamin D. Why is vitamin D important and how does its absence negatively impact our health? Imogen Simmonds explores the research…

Vitamin D is a naturally occurring hormone that the human body produces, but it can also be obtained through your diet. As defined by the National Health Service (NHS), vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These elements are vital for maintaining healthy skeletal and muscular structures including teeth; calcium is the main building block of bones, and without vitamin D, the body cannot absorb it. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, laboratory studies have been conducted which concluded that vitamin D can even reduce cancer cell growth 

It is always a good idea to take a trip to your local GP or pharmacist

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency? 

The principal symptoms of vitamin D deficiency tend to be muscle or bone pain/weakness, increased physical sensitivity, waddling, a ‘pins-and-needles’ sensation, and in severe cases bowing legs. Weakened bones can even result in fractures. 

Less specific vitamin deficiency symptoms may also include brittle hair and nails, vision problems, dry skin and oral problems like ulcers or bleeding gums. Other than vitamin D, some of the most common deficiencies include iron, iodine and vitamin A. It is important to consider your vulnerability to different issues or parallel symptoms when considering a deficiency. 

It is always a good idea to take a trip to your local GP or pharmacist if you are suffering from similar symptoms rather than solely relying on online advice! 

It is common for people in the UK to struggle with a vitamin D deficiency 

How to avoid a vitamin deficiency: 

Sunlight is necessary for the absorption of vitamin D by the body, think of yourself as photosynthesising! However the grizzly British weather is unwavering so between October to March, it is common for people in the UK to struggle with a vitamin D deficiency.  

The NHS’s official advice is to consider taking daily vitamin D supplements during the autumn and winter months. People at high risk (those who stay inside all day), or infants aged 1-4 should take a supplement throughout the entire year (if they aren’t on formula). Alternatively, vitamin D can be found abundantly in some foods: fortified milk and cereals, oily fish such as salmon, egg yolks, white mushrooms, red meat and cheese.  

UV lamps claim to boost vitamin D levels as they emit UV-B radiation. They ultimately mirror the role of the sun and may improve other skin conditions like acne. However, they are expensive and excessive exposure can burn the skin. It is also hard to imagine that UV lights offer the same full benefits as natural sunshine. 

Rickets is a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency

How to improve diet diversity: 

Diversity in the diet is vital in achieving a full variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that prevent diseases and maintain cognitive and body health and growth. The best way to achieve diet diversity is by increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables that are overflowing with vital vitamins. Sneaking fruits, vegetables or legumes into dishes is easy. Blend them into smoothies, sprinkle them in curries and stews, or create a mash out of beans! (Just remember to opt for organic produce if possible) 

Did you know? 

During the 17th Century in England, there was a rickets epidemic, dubbed the ‘English disease’ by Francis Glisson, which led to 2-8% of deaths in British urban areas. Rickets is a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency and it is likely that rickets was actually the first ever childhood disease caused by environmental pollution – the Industrial Revolution was so filthy that the smog literally blocked out the sun!  

Imogen Simmonds

Featured image courtesy of Zac Durant via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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