It’s sunny in Britain! After living in Britain for about 7 years I’ve noticed that the one thing Brits love more than a good brew is talking about the weather, especially when it’s abnormally sunny. When the sun decides to show its face and shine down on Old Blighty you’ll see the British population flocking to the nearest beach or park, setting up BBQ’s, swarming pub gardens and roof terraces. British hospitality sees an influx in sales and everyone enjoys the beautiful weather in any way they can. As an Aussie I naturally love the warmer months in Britain more than the cooler months and am definitely one of those people taking advantage of any chance to soak up those sunny rays.
Over the last couple of months we’ve seen a massive change in the way we live. We went to sleep one night with the world as we knew it, then woke up to something completely new. With COVID-19 not looking like it’s going away anytime soon and the threat of infection looming over us all, the British public have been advised by the government to stay indoors except for a few select reasons. I honestly never thought I would experience anything like what we are currently going through. Past generations have had to endure wars and, whilst we haven’t found world peace, I never expected to face any threat to our health and life during my lifetime. Yet, here we are living in a world where holding hands, hugs, kisses and visiting loved ones is dangerous. We’re told to stay indoors and only leave if we absolutely must.
So as we arrive in May and the weather starts to get warmer and the British public would normally be basking in the sun we haven’t seen for 6 months, we’re being told to stay indoors. Whilst the majority of people are adhering to this advice, there are still those people who think “pub in the park” or a family BBQ are ok. The nation has clapped for the NHS from doorways and windows for the past few Thursdays, yet only a couple of days later when the sun shines we’re seeing Richmond riverside and London Fields full of people sunbathing and drinking, ignoring the advice our health professionals and government are begging us to listen to. So many people are debating if sunbathing is ok during a lockdown with the health secretary at one point threatening that if we don’t take the advice seriously then they will also ban exercise outdoors. He’s since revoked this threat as it would seriously impact people who live in small flats with no garden or outdoor space and we all need some outdoor time. So the debate continues online; the majority of people asking others to listen to advice for the sake of everyone, and the minority arguing that they need their vitamin D intake to boost their immune system.
What is vitamin D and why do we need it?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (actually, it’s technically a hormone) that plays a special role in bone growth by helping maintain blood concentrations of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is also important in muscle growth by promoting muscle protein synthesis, neural function and helping the immune system fight invading bacteria and viruses. Please note, however, that there is currently no scientific evidence to support the claims that vitamin D will reduce the risk of COVID-19.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to decreased bone density and can result in rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. It’s important to ensure you’re getting an adequate intake of vitamin D to maintain good health.
The NHS recommends children from the age of 1 and adults require 10μg (micrograms; a microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram) of vitamin D per day, and children under 1 require 8.5 to 10μg of vitamin D per day.
Where does vitamin D come from?
From the sun
The easiest way for us to get the vitamin D we need is from sunlight as our body creates vitamin D from UVB radiation directly from sunlight when we’re outdoors. So in the UK from about late March to late September, under normal circumstances, you can easily obtain the recommended amount of vitamin D without even thinking about it.
There isn’t a recommended amount of time you need to sit in the sun to obtain your daily vitamin D intake. How well your body makes vitamin D from UVB radiation will depend on your skin colour and how much skin you have exposed to the sun. You also can’t just sit by the window with the sun beaming in and expect to get your daily vitamin D intake. The UVB radiation is unable to reach you through the glass, so you’ll need to be outside with your forearms, hands or lower legs exposed. However, always remember to be sunsmart and avoid spending too long in the sun during the hottest part of the day; 12pm to 3pm. Whilst a set time isn’t provided, spending as little as 15-30 minutes in the sun can be enough depending on skin colour and exposure.
But what about when we’re stuck indoors and unable to go outside often? Or during the months from October to March when winter sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for the body to convert to vitamin D? How can we ensure we obtain an appropriate intake of vitamin D to maintain good health?
From your diet
A small number of foods, such as oily fish, i.e. salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, mushrooms and egg yolks, are naturally occurring sources of vitamin D. A lot of foods are also fortified to include or enhance levels of vitamin D, such as cereals, breads, fat spreads and non-dairy milks. If you’re in the UK like me, or somewhere with a similar climate, you’ll see many foods in supermarkets have been fortified to enhance the levels of vitamin D. This is because, as mentioned, it can be hard to obtain the recommended levels from the sun during winter and considering how long UK winters are, many foods have been fortified to help boost our vitamin D intake.
However, whilst we can get vitamin D from these foods, they don’t provide the adequate amount of vitamin D required. So, during times when you can’t obtain vitamin D from the sun because of the time of year or because you’re stuck indoors, health professionals recommend taking vitamin D supplements to ensure you’re meeting recommended levels.
So, no, you can’t really claim that you need to get your vitamin D intake as an excuse to go sunbathe in the park. Yes, we’re all fed up with lockdown and can’t wait for the day we can go outside as normal. There’s nothing quite like summer in London and I for one am looking forward to the lockdown to be relaxed so we can enjoy the good weather and summer sun. However, if you’re truly concerned about your vitamin D intake, consider taking supplements whilst we’re in lockdown and increasing the types of natural sources you eat. You’d be surprised how much food in the UK is fortified with vitamin D!