Time to clear out those dusty bottles of out-of-date supplements you forgot to take. We’ve found the only one everyone needs to stock up on.
Nowadays, it seems like there’s a pill for everything, whether it’s helping to combat acne, restore a youthful glow or boost our immunity. Indeed, the global diet supplement industry is predicted to be worth £157.8 billion by 2022. But when it comes down to the ones we really need, dermatologists and nutritionists are unanimous about the importance of Vitamin D.
Known as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’, Vitamin D helps our skin repair itself and speeds up cell turnover, also helping to protect against free radicals (unstable molecules caused by sun and pollution which can attack healthy skin tissue). But it’s not just your complexion that stands to benefit. “Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone health,” explains dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. “It also provides protection against some types of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, as well as positive benefits for mood and well-being.”
If you find yourself feeling tired, moody or like you’re permanently bunged up, a lack of Vitamin D could be to blame, as leading Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert explains. “Factors that may indicate Vitamin D deficiency can include regular coughs and colds, tiredness and fatigue, poor bone and tooth health and low mood.” Plus, recent research shows that more than three million people across the UK could reduce their risk of colds or flu every year if everyone took Vitamin D supplements. So in terms of keeping everything ticking over, it’s pretty vital.
So why are we not getting enough from the foods we eat? According to The Vitamin D Council, it’s present in such small amounts in food, that altering our diet isn’t enough. It’s the sun we should be relying upon, as nutritionist Dr. Emma Derbyshire explained in a recent HSIS statement. Hence in countries like the UK where sunlight is lacking, we need to be extra vigilant. “Evidence shows that the sun is not high enough in the sky between the months of October and April to allow our bodies to make Vitamin D from sunlight,” she points out.
But just because we’re in the height of summer, this doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. “When we do get enough sunshine in the summer months, factors such as air pollution, clothing and sunscreen use can all act as notable barriers to this.”
Health and nutrition consultant Karen-Cummings Palmer agrees. “While sun protection is really important, over protection is increasing our risk of Vitamin D deficiency and reducing our ability to resist the harmful rays. This requires further protection, thus creating a vicious cycle.” Of course, you shouldn’t ditch your trusty SPF, but she recommends waiting for a short while before applying it. “A little unprotected exposure to the sun every day (between 10 and 20 minutes) depending on your skin type will help boost both your Vitamin D and your defenses.” Obviously darker skin types which have more UV-deflecting melanin, will take longer, but still shouldn’t wait until they start to burn.
But this alone may not be enough to get a daily fix - especially if you live in the city, warns dietician and Together Health ambassador Lola Biggs. “Air pollution can play a massive role, as it soaks up UVB or reflects it back into space. This means that if you live somewhere where there is lots of pollution, your skin makes less Vitamin D.”
The results speak for themselves. Last year, government data showed that roughly a fifth of adults aged 19 to 64 years have low blood levels of vitamin D, with NHS guidelines recommending we take 10 micrograms a day. Dr. Anjali notes that some of us are more vulnerable than others, “Certain groups are more likely to be deficient including the elderly, pregnant women, those who wear whole-body coverings, skin cancer patients, and infants born to mothers who are vitamin D deficient.”
So which supplements should we be taking? The two main types are Vitamin D2 and D3, but experts tend to lean towards to latter. “Vitamin D synthesised by the sun is always the most efficient,” Lola advises. “In supplement form, it has to be converted by your body a number of times before it can be used. Choosing D3 format known as cholecalciferol vs D2 (ergocalciferol) reduces one of these necessary processes.” The Vitamin D Council also believe D3 is the better choice, suggesting it may be more bioavailable due to the fact that “Vitamin D3 is the type of vitamin D your body produces in response to sun exposure, while vitamin D2 is not.”
But vegans should take care when taking Vitamin D3 – as according to health company Together, most of these supplements are derived from lanolin which comes from sheep’s wool. Their own vegan Vitamin D3 supplements (£6.99) are sourced from natural lichen, a plant extract. Other vegan-friendly D3s include algae-based varieties such as Neal’s Yard Remedies Vitamin D Supplement. (£12.50)
However not all experts remain convinced that D3 is necessarily better, Rhiannon being one of them. “Some clinical trials have suggested Vitamin D3 to be superior to Vitamin D supplements. However, there is also research to suggest these supplements can differ in terms of bioavailability. You should always consult a doctor or registered nutritionist before taking them.”
Otherwise, Karen recommends “a holistic approach with an amino-acid based supplement like Lumity, which has Vitamin D with Vitamin C and magnesium for maximum absorption and support.”
But if all else fails, she also has a home-remedy to try out. “Try soaking mushrooms in the sunshine for an hour. Like our skin, the mushrooms turn the sun’s rays into Vitamin D which is retained during cooking, so you won’t compromise the health benefits or your complexion.”
Image: UnSplash/Alison Marras, iStock,