The Vitamin D Epidemic

By London Nutritionist Sylvia Hensher

How Vitamin D Deficient Is The UK?

A recent survey in the UK showed that more than half of the adult population in the UK has insufficient levels of vitamin D. In the winter and spring about 1 in 6 people has a severe deficiency. It is estimated that about 9 in 10 adults of South Asian origin may be vitamin D-deficient. Most affected people either don’t have any symptoms, or have vague aches and pains, and are unaware of the problem.

Why Do Your Vitamin D Levels Matter?

In addition to the well-known osteoporosis connection, deficiency of this fat-soluble vitamin can be linked to a wide range of health problems, from cancer and cardiovascular disease to cognitive impairment and problems with auto-immunity such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. Huge increased research interest in this field is constantly bringing to light new evidence which underscores the enormous importance of vitamin D to human health.

Sources of Vitamin D

What many people don’t realise is that very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fortified milk, egg yolks and oily fish are the best sources, but we can’t rely on food to provide with optimal amounts of vitamin D on a daily basis. In fact, the major source (80 – 100%) of vitamin D is actually sunshine. Ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight rays convert cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D.

That’s right, although cholesterol is often a much maligned substance, our bodies literally could not survive without it! The sunlight has to fall directly on to bare skin (through a window is not enough). To add to the complexity of this issue, age, skin colour, geographic latitude, seasonal variations in sunlight availability and sunscreen use can impact on your body’s ability to produce all the vitamin D it needs. For example, darker skins need more sun to get the same amount of vitamin D as a fair-skinned person and because of geographic location, people in the United Kingdom cannot synthesise vitamin D from November to the end of March.

Why the Vitamin D Epidemic?

So why are we experiencing such epidemic proportions of vitamin D Deficiency? It’s because we are increasingly much less exposed to sunlight due to our indoor and sedentary lifestyles, and because of official advice to protect ourselves from skin cancer by covering up totally in the sun and slathering ourselves with sunscreen, which blocks UVB rays, and thus vitamin D synthesis.

What You Can Do

At least 2-3 exposures of sunlight per week between 10 AM and 3 PM are considered enough to achieve healthy vitamin D levels. Each episode should be 20-30 minutes to bare arms and face, legs, or back without sunscreen. This is not the same as sun tanning; the skin simply needs to be exposed to sunlight, but should not burn. Thus, the time of day, geographic latitude and seasonal variations in sunlight availability will determine the optimal length for direct, yet safe sun exposure.

Most experts now agree that supplementation is currently the safest and most effective method of achieving optimal vitamin D status. A blood test for vitamin D can be very useful; it can help establish your current vitamin D levels which can help you figure out how much vitamin D you need, or whether the sun exposure you get and/or the supplements you take are providing optimal levels.

If you’d like to know more about whether you might be vitamin D deficient or how you can optimise your vitamin D levels, call us now on 0207 724 4445 /07812 163 324 or email us at for a FREE chat!

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