ARE YOU VITAMIN D READY FOR WINTER?Dr Kirsty Pourshahidi is a Human Nutritionist at Ulster University where she specialises in studies on vitamin D. Her research interests include vitamin D requirements for health in the general population and here she tells News Letter readers of the importance of vitamin D in our diet during winter.
“As we begin to feel a nip in the air we start to prepare for the winter months: store away our summer clothes and get out our winter wardrobe; have the boiler serviced; turn up the thermostat a notch; and put a higher tog quilt on the bed. However, many people don’t realise that they also need to prepare their body for winter and that means ensuring that we get enough vitamin D.
“There are three ways we can get vitamin D: from summer sunlight, as vitamin D is made in the skin when it’s exposed to sun which contains enough UVB light; from food sources; and from dietary supplements.
“Until recently little attention was given to food sources, as it was thought that we synthesised enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer to last us over winter when we can’t make it, but recent studies have revealed this isn’t the case and that blood levels of the vitamin drop significantly between October and March.
“The recent National Diet and Nutrition survey (NDNS) has shown that around a third of adults (aged 19-64 years) in Northern Ireland had low blood levels of vitamin D, a higher proportion than in the UK as a whole. Research conducted by Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Ulster University has highlighted that even at the end of summer, when levels should be at their highest, as many as 50% of adults have insufficient blood levels, and even more worryingly, that’s before levels naturally start to drop over the winter.
“Research shows that vitamin D is vital to our health as it is used to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which are essential for healthy bones and muscles. Without enough vitamin D, bones can become thin, soft and brittle which in extreme cases can lead to rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, as well as an increased risk of falls.
“So how can we ensure that our bodies get enough vitamin D in the winter months?
“If we are reliant on topping up our body’s stores with food sources of vitamin D then the simple answer is to look out for foods that are high in vitamin D. The fact is though, there aren’t many naturally good food sources of vitamin D; fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel and fish liver oils are among the best. So another option is to opt for foods fortified with vitamin D; look out for fortified dairy products, breakfast cereals, and bread to ensure you stay topped up with healthy levels of vitamin D.
To keep up with the vitamin D research being conducted by the team at NICHE, follow them on twitter (@NICHE_ULSTER) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/UlsterUniversityNICHE)