Vitamin D is an essential nutrient which, along with calcium, builds healthy bones and teeth. A severe lack (deficiency) of Vitamin D may result in bone disease with weak, deformed bone growth. Once common in Ireland in past generations, the childhood condition Rickets and its adult form Osteomalacia are now being more frequently diagnosed due to an increase in Vitamin D deficiency in the population.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin is unlike other vitamins in that 90% of our source is from exposure to ultra violet B sunlight (UVB) rather than consumption in our diet.
Ironically it is our need to protect our skin against harmful sunlight with sunscreen, combined with our low levels of natural sunlight in winter months in Ireland that is resulting in low levels of (insufficient) Vitamin D for many Irish people.
Dietary Vitamin D is best found in oily fish or cod liver oil, egg yolk, meat and some fortified products such as baby formula, milk and margarine. People with coeliac disease or those following vegan or vegetarian diet may not absorb or consume enough dietary vitamin D.
An important group at risk of low vitamin D levels are pregnant women, especially those who have had several babies close together, and exclusively breastfed babies. This is because the babies depend on Mums supply of Vitamin D, both before birth and in the first 6 months of life for healthy bone and teeth growth. It may be difficult for Mums to maintain the stores of vitamin D needed for this without taking supplementation. It is not safe for babies to have their skin exposed to sunlight to produce their vitamin D.
The HSE currently recommends a daily 10mcg (400IU) vitamin D supplement for all those at risk including pregnant mothers (this is included in many prenatal multivitamin preparations) and 5 mcg (200IU) daily Vitamin D for all newborns for the first year of life ( whether taking breast milk, formula milk or solid food).
Low levels of Vitamin D may be linked to various diseases research suggests that it plays an important role in the normal immune system and heart health.The benefits of treating low (insufficient) levels in otherwise healthy people are not clear and consuming excessive Vitamin D may cause harmful blood calcium levels. Talking to your GP about the need for blood testing or supplementation is the first step if you feel you may be in an at risk group or are concerned about any symptoms.
For good bone health remember to get out and enjoy the summer sun safely for at least 20 minutes 3 times per week and think about using supplementation during the low light of winter especially if you find yourself in an at risk group.