Top Tips to Boost your Vitamin D


How much darker has it got over the last few weeks?! It won't be long until the clocks go back and the winter hibernation begins.  You might have been lucky enough to have seen snippets of blue sky recently but for many of us Northern hemisphere hermits, the winter months bring dull days, rain, more rain and often very little quality sunshine.

In fact our  exposure to sunshine is one of the biggest factors that determines the levels of Vitamin D in our body. Known as the sunshine vitamin, we rely on UVB rays from the sun to make Vitamin D in our skin.

In the spring and summer months we need only spend 15 minutes in the sun (between 11am and 3pm) 2-3 times a week to make enough vitamin D. From October to March however it becomes practically impossible; not only do our days become shorter (and we spend more time indoors) but the intensity of the sunshine falls. 

People with dark skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D as someone with lighter skin because melanin (the skin pigment) absorbs the UV. Despite this it's still really important we aim to get outside and get some fresh air to gain the numerous other benefits this provides.

And unlike other vitamins, food sources of vitamin D are pretty limited. Our diet is often more processed than it should be, so it’s more likely that we don’t eat enough of the foods we need to. We also spend more time than ever indoors so over the last decade, out vitamin D levels have been slowly dropping.

Vitamin D is essential for bone health and growth but evidence is growing that also supports other possible roles in helping prevent certain cancers, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and depression and dementia.

Most peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women would certainly benefit from a vitamin D top-up, to help support bone health, particularly as falling oestrogen is linked to reduced bone density (and an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture), with aging.

I always recommend a food first approach when it comes to vitamins and minerals (aside form Vitamin D) and the recommendation of supplements should always be considered on an individual basis. Factors to consider are any genetic risk factors, your lifestyle (smoking, drinking, exercising habits etc.) and of course diet.

It is considered safe for women past the menopause to take up to 1200mg per day. The general recommendation for adults is 700mg. It is not considered safe to go above 1200mg for any length of time, unless under specialist advice, because high blood calcium levels can affect heart and vascular health. It is one of the reasons why some Calcium and Vitamin D supplements also contain Vitamin K2, which is believed to encourage Calcium to go to our bones rather than our blood vessels.

The winter months can bring with it SAD (seasonal affective disorder). If you are aware you suffer from the winter blues, you may also benefit from more Vitamin D in your diet, in the form of a supplement. Research findings are still mixed but there may be an association between low Vitamin D levels and low mood, the theory being that we use Vitamin D to make our happy hormones serotonin and dopamine. 

So here are my top 3 tips on boosting your Vitamin D levels in the winter months ahead:

1. Eat more oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines

Aim for twice a week at least. Red meat, liver [shudder], cheese and egg yolks are also good sources but that’s about it! Some foods have vitamin D added to them (they are fortified – breakfast cereals, spreads, non-dairy milk alternatives and some yoghurts) but the amounts can be very small and vary so it's not easy to be sure you are getting what you need.

2. Go for Vit D enriched mushrooms!

Tesco and M&S (not just any mushroom!) have taken to exposing their mushrooms to UV light when they are grown to increase their vit D content.  Just 4 chestnut or 2 portobello mushrooms would provide your recommended daily amount, but they need to have a sticker on them saying high in Vitamin D. nb there is no Vitamin D in peas, despite the blog image!!

3. Take a vitamin D supplement.

‘Vulnerable’ groups have long been recommended to take a D supplement but we now know that anyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a 10 microgram (mcg) supplement, particularly in the winter months.  

Vulnerable groups include:

  • Breastfed babies from birth to 12 months old should have a daily supplement containing 8.5-10 mcg of vitamin D. Infant formula milk is already fortified so babies having more than 500ml (~1 pint) of formula a day should not be given a supplement. Vitamin drops are available for babies and toddlers so it’s easy to give.
  • Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D. My son is 7 and I still use drops that I squirt into his morning cereal but you can also get fruity gummies too.
  • The over 65’s and the following people would benefit from taking 10mcg of vitamin D all year round: 
    • Anyone who spends much of their time indoors (e.g. those who are frail, housebound  or in a care home)
    • Anyone who usually wears clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
    • Anyone with African, African-Caribbean or South Asian family origin

Look for Vitamin D3 as this is the most active form in the body.

Many supplements use the International Unit (IU) instead of mcg, in which case 10mcg = 400IU. You can safely go higher (up to 20mcg or 800IU) but I always recommend starting lower and work upwards if needed. I would also recommend seeking professional advice to go above 25mcg.

I believe you kind of get what you pay for when it comes to supplements. The best forms of Vitamin D come in either a gel capsule or mouth spray, rather than a cheaper chalky tablet. The body absorbs Vitamin D just as well from the mouth as it does from the gut, the so spray option can be ideal if you a not a fan of swallowing tablets.

If you are not sure or worried you are not getting enough vitamin D, get your levels checked and speak to a registered nutritionist (like me!), dietitian or your doctor to work out the best plan for you.


If you'd like to find out how you could boost your Vitamin D and energy levels, then click the 'Let's Talk' below for a free 30min chat with Mel


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