Soaking up the ‘sunshine vitamin’

Vitamin D is one of the most talked about supplements

Considering the wet and windy winter months are well and truly upon us, now is the best time to start concentrating on keeping yourself healthy.

I’m a firm believer that people should get the majority of essential nutrients from a balanced diet with a couple of exceptions, one of these exceptions being ‘the sunshine vitamin’ – vitamin D.

Vitamin D has been one of the most talked about supplements recently with research increasingly pointing to its vast benefits especially for certain populations.

There is extensive evidence to suggest that a widespread deficiency of vitamin D exists particularly in countries with long winters with limited sunshine such as Ireland.

Vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining good health. It has several important functions, including helping to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These substances are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.


Without adequate vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle and misshapen. In extreme cases this can lead to rickets in children, a condition involving a softening of the bones that can lead to fractures and deformity.

Vitamin D may have other important roles in the body including regulating cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Even years after its discovery, there is still ongoing research examining the various other functions vitamin D might perform in the body.

According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) – a group of experts that advises the British government about all aspects of nutrition – some evidence suggests that vitamin D may be important in preventing other diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis.

Another hugely important role vitamin D has is in mental health, as deficiency has been linked to symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight on the skin. The vitamin forms under the skin in reaction to a type of ultraviolet ray called UVB. UVB rays are more powerful in the summer, and experts advise exposing the skin to regular, short periods of sun during the summer months, without sunscreen, which blocks UVB rays. However, it is important to ensure that the skin does not burn.


The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has been boosted to 600IU. However, researchers maintain this is still too low.

Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods but it is difficult to obtain enough from diet alone. Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines) and eggs.

If you are someone who doesn’t eat foods rich in vitamin D and you don’t get to visit more temperate climates during the winter months, perhaps a vitamin D supplement would be a sensible and practical solution for you.