22 Jan 2021

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” as our bodies make and store it when exposed to UV rays from sunshine. In Ireland, vitamin D deficiency can be common due to a lack of sunlight (especially from November to March) and the poor weather which keeps us indoors. Even when outdoors the direct winter sunshine is often not powerful enough for Vitamin D production.

Vitamin D is necessary for building and maintaining healthy bones and supporting the immune system. This vitamin is essential as it helps calcium and phosphorus be absorbed in the gut and used for our bone health. Vitamin D also acts as a hormone in the body and regulates more than 200 genes in our bodies. There is also increasing evidence to suggest that this essential vitamin contributes to cardiac and cognitive health, regulation of blood pressure and blood sugar levels and boosts our immune system.

Babies & Children

A baby needs a good supply of vitamin D to help with the rapid bone growth after birth. Vitamin D will also ensure the bones are strong and support the immune system. Babies are not generally exposed to much sunshine, so a supplement is essential.

In Ireland, it is recommended that breast fed babies should be given a daily vitamin D supplement until at least 12 months of age. Infant formulas for bottle fed babies have been modified to increase the content of vitamin D because of its importance. Most babies drinking over 500ml of formula per day do not need extra vitamin D. You can check the recommendations with one of our pharmacists and we can suggest the most appropriate option for your baby. We feel it is advisable to continue daily vitamin D supplements until 4 years of age to ensure good bone health.

A deficiency of vitamin D in children leads to a condition called rickets where the bones are brittle and deformed. This condition was almost completely eradicated in recent times, but there has been a re-emergence of the condition in Ireland which tells us our children are simply not getting enough vitamin D. We recommend Aya Baby Sunshine D drops suitable from 1 month of age. This will ensure your child is getting the ideal amount of vitamin D in a single daily dose. One pack of Aya baby sunshine D provides 2-month supply of vitamin D. For new-borns we recommend BabyvitD3 drops.

We have several multivitamin products containing vitamin D also such as Vivio Junior, Proven Fit for School sachets, Lil Critters and Vitabiotics Wellkid products. These are ideal for children going to school or creche.

Adults

In adults, low vitamin D levels can show in later life as osteoporosis where the bones become weaker due to mineral loss. This leads to bones that easily fracture and is often a cause of hospitalisation and disability in older people. The strength of the bone starts to decrease after the menopause which often occurs in the early to mid-forties.

It has been found that women often have lower vitamin D levels than men. This is also the case with older people who absorb less vitamin D from the sun’s rays and their diet. However, our geographical location in northern Europe means that all of us are probably low in vitamin D at certain times of the year. As we cannot manufacture it ourselves, a supplement is our best option.

We recommend Mylan Vitamin D3 2000IU which is a daily dose that provides the optimum dose to maintain healthy levels in our body. We suggest you make it part of your daily routine and have it with your breakfast or lunch every day.

Diet

Vitamin D is also contained in several foods. The highest levels are found in oily fish such as salmon and tuna (some tinned tuna has negligible levels, so check the tin), which also have additional benefits for our heart and circulation, so we recommend two portions a week of oily fish for general health. We can also find vitamin D in eggs, milk and breakfast cereals. However, with our lack of sunlight in this country our diet will not provide enough to cover our needs.

Vitamin D & the Immune system

In recent months there has been a spotlight on the role of Vitamin D in in supporting the immune system. Evidence suggests that Vitamin D has a positive effect on the immune cells in the body and those with higher levels of Vitamin D are less prone to severe complications of viruses like Covid-19. Vitamin D will not prevent you from contracting Covid-19, but it may affect your ability to recover and reduce the risk of severe complications. At risk groups such as the elderly, ethnic minorities, those with high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease typically suffer from low levels of vitamin D. We would suggest that all at risk groups take a vitamin D supplement once it is medically safe for them to do so. You can ask one of our pharmacists to recommend a product for suitable for you if you are in an at-risk group. A list of high-risk groups can be found at www.hse.ie.

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin and research is indicating it may have many more benefits than we first thought. However, we are certain that it strengthens bones from birth into old age and supports the immune system. For strong, healthy bones and to stay safe and well take a vitamin D supplement this winter.

Talk to your local Hickey’s Pharmacist today about vitamin D. Find your nearest Hickey’s Pharmacy here.