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Getting our vitamin D fix: why it’s important to our mental and physical health

How many times have you had to be reminded to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C? Whether it’s “drink some orange juice” or “take your Berocca”, we are all aware of how and why we must keep our vitamin C levels high. However, the ambiguity seems to arise over Vitamin D, when “Oh, you get it from the sun” is about as scientific as it gets. This apprehension surrounding vitamin D is contributing to a lack of understanding, which during COVID times, can actually be rather detrimental especially during the winter lockdown period.

So, why do we need vitamin D? It is vital for regulating our calcium and phosphate levels which in simple terms are needed for: bones, teeth, and muscles. This is the GCSE science version that I can just about remember, however, when researching the impact of vitamin D deficiency, there seems to be several good reasons why it appeared on the biology syllabus. 

Firstly, vitamin D is harder to source from food, which is why scientists predict a significant decrease in vitamin D levels over the winter months as our sunlight exposure decreases. Whilst this isn’t abnormal for the UK, this year it is vital that we monitor our vitamin D levels as it is essential for our immune systems, which is of greater importance now with Covid lurking about. Scientists have also stated that patients with vitamin D deficiencies are often completely unaware, which is a significant cause for concern. 

A recent study, published by Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that “80% of 200 COVID patients”, in a hospital in Spain, had a vitamin D deficiency. Study co-author, José L. Hernández, stated that vitamin D treatment would have to be administered as it is vital for the musculoskeletal and the immune system. The study also found that 80% of men had lower levels of vitamin D than women which aggravated inflammatory markers, increased risk of pneumonia and respiratory infections – so I think we can argue, it is clearly very important. 

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The tricky problem with vitamin D is that the body is unable to create the vitamin itself and as we have established, the main source of it is found naturally from sun exposure. This is particularly difficult when we are limited to the amount of sunlight we receive during the winter months in Edinburgh.  A change in diet can be used to prevent deficiency; “oily fish, red meat and egg yolks” are good sources, however, there is a very small number that naturally contain vitamin D, none of which are suitable for a vegan diet. 

So how can we source our vitamin D during the winter months? Public Health England has updated its advice to state that 10 micrograms of vitamin D should be supplemented daily, especially during the lockdown period. Firstly, if you are following a vegan diet, vitamin D supplements are crucial and a necessity and, even if you aren’t, there is no clear indicator that you are receiving your adequate quota of vitamin D each day. Supplements are a great source as they allow you to monitor the amount of vitamin D you are receiving and can be easily found in high street shops such as Holland & Barrett or Boots. 

With a current climate that is reliant on our healthy immune systems in order to continue living our lives, it is so important to take extra care of ourselves; that starts with ensuring we are following all health guidelines that could benefit us in the long run. 

So, take your supplements, drink your orange juice, get some fresh air and sunlight when you can, and hopefully that means we are on track to maintaining the health of Edinburgh’s student population!

Image: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels