A study conducted at the University of Newcastle in 2010 revealed that approximately 16% of of the British population is severely deficient in vitamin D during the winter, and half the population has some degree of deficiency. The research shows the problem is much more prevalent in the North and among those of Asian and African descent, as those with darker skin are less able to absorb sunlight and produce the vitamin.
Other factors affecting vitamin D deficiency are working indoors, children playing indoor on electronics instead of getting outside, and consistent sunscreen use.
While sunscreen use is important, especially in those with pale complexions, to prevent burning and to protect against skin cancer, sunscreen prevents the absorption of UV rays needed to produce vitamin D. It has been suggested that those who use sunscreen consistently should consider taking Vitamin D3 supplements.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from food and is vital to bone growth. Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to brittle, misshapen, or thin bones and can lead to children developing rickets and adults developing osteomalacia, which is a softening of the bones, or other conditions. Lack of vitamin D has also been linked to the onset of Parkinson’s disease in later life.
While sun exposure is one of the best sources of vitamin D, it can also be found in foods such as liver, egg yolk, and oily fish like salmon and tuna. A number of supplements are also available, both over the counter and with a prescription. Many supplements also contain calcium, as vitamin D deficiency causes the body to not absorb and use calcium normally.
The best way to determine whether you are getting enough vitamin D is to visit your healthcare provider for a vitamin D test. If you are deficient in vitamin D, or you want to ensure you get enough over the winter, consider incorporating more vitamin D rich foods into your diet, getting out in the sun as much as weather allows, or taking a daily vitamin D3 supplement.
Photo Credit: Tony Stewart/ Flickr CC
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2016.