There’s a reason why Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin: Ultra Violet rays (UV) are used to make it in our skin! Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D functions like a hormone, and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it. Without Vitamin D, we would struggle to maintain our bone health, have next to nothing muscle function and a very weak immune system. When the UV rays from the sun land on your skin, adequate Vitamin D levels benefit the skin by promoting healthy epidermal cell growth.
And now most of us are in lockdown due to COVID-19, which means we’re spending less than adequate time in the sun. Dependent on your state or country, you may be allowed out for exercise once a day but time is restricted. For others, you’re only allowed out for emergencies, medical supplies or groceries. So, we may all be doing our bit to stop the spread, but we’re now at a higher risk of developing a Vitamin D deficiency.
Unfortunately, we can’t put all the blame on COVID-19. A lack of Vitamin D has been a problem across the world for a while. Many Asian cultures avoid the sun because a tan is considered undesirable, but even in notoriously sunny places it’s an issue.
For example, over 90% of the United Arab Emirates population and 40% of Australians are considered deficient in Vitamin D because the sun is simply too strong to stay out in! It's estimated that about 1 billion people across the globe have low levels of Vitamin D in their blood.
You’re at a higher risk of being Vitamin D deficient if you are overweight, elderly, have dark skin, eat too little fish/dairy, live far away from the equator, stay covered from the sun when you’re out or if you’re don’t go out at all: the latter being the new normal for most of us.
So, what are the signs you may be needing to up your Vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays a vital role in keeping your immune system working at optimal condition. If you’re contracting colds, coughs, and bugs this could be a sign you’re deficient. Other common Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are bone pain, back pain, muscle pain, extreme tiredness/fatigue, depression, hair loss and slow healing of wounds.
If you think you're deficient in Vitamin D, what can you do to help your body through the COVID-19 lockdown you may be experiencing?
Consuming fortified foods can help to provide essential Vitamin D and nutrients. Many products like cereal, yogurt, fat spreads, grains, and milk will be clearly labeled that they’re fortified with vitamins and minerals and this usually includes Vitamin D.
But, don’t be fooled - just because it claims to be fortified, doesn’t mean it’s healthy! A food that has added vitamins and minerals can sometimes mask other unhealthy ingredients like increased levels of sugar and saturated fat. Make sure to double-check the nutritional information label that you’re getting what you need but not being tricked into also consuming mountains of sugar before chowing down on these Vitamin D foods.
Non-fortified foods that will help restock your Vitamin D levels are red meat, liver, egg yolk and oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel.
From the age of 1, you need to be absorbing a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day. If you’re a vegetarian/vegan, or someone who doesn’t have access to outdoor space during lockdown, or are abiding by the social isolation guidelines set by your country, you may need to seriously consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. This will help make sure your body is getting the right nutrients to function normally during this period.
If you’re in a country or state that has told you to stay inside to help deal with the spread of COVID-19, make sure you’re opening your windows and sitting in the sunlight where possible. The sun’s UV rays, which give you Vitamin D, cannot penetrate glass so open windows are a must if you want to benefit from the sunshine.
You’re allowed out? Make sure you’re taking up your allocated time out to exercise in the sunlight to avoid a Vitamin D deficiency. Try to schedule your outdoor time between 10 am and 3pm to optimise exposure as this is when the sun is at its highest and strongest. Use sun lotion where needed.
Remember, if you’re allowed to exercise outdoors, make sure to observe social distancing of at least 2 meters to help protect yourself and your community from spreading coronavirus.
Keeping your Vitamin D levels up will also help support your body in keeping the respiratory system (lungs) healthy, which is the area of the body that the COVID-19 virus particularly targets. If you’re worried about your immune system, check out our “5 ways to boost your immune system" blog.
As we learn more about the behaviour of the COVID-19 virus, information is constantly being updated around how to support the fight against it via your personal hygiene routine. Stay up to date with coronavirus advice on the NHS Website.