The long, dark days of winter bring with them a distinct lack of vitamin D. Dubbed the “sunshine vitamin,” it works in the body as a hormone, explains Alice Mackintosh, nutritionist and co-founder of EQUI London. Moreover, studies show that we are not getting nearly enough—especially during the winter.
“The best way to increase vitamin D is via sun exposure—20 minutes of summer-strength sunlight on bare skin (without SPF is a good goal,” says Mackintosh, explaining that the back, legs and arms are the best parts to expose, for maximum sunlight absorption. “The problem, of course, is that we can’t often get this level of sunlight on our skin, even in the summer, which is where diet and supplements come in.”
A dwindling supply of vitamin D can lead to myriad problems—and often ones that you might not immediately connect to a deficiency in the vitamin. It is needed for everything from hormone balance and immune function (especially important, of course, in the age of Covid-19), to healthy teeth, bones, and muscle. It can also help slow the aging process, and promote good brain health and mood. It is especially important for formation of the “happy hormone”, serotonin, so if you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or a lowered mood, a lack of vitamin D could be behind it. “Research has also shown that low levels may increase our risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” adds Mackintosh. “And it’s essential during pregnancy for the development of a healthy foetus.”
During winter, we are all susceptible to vitamin D deficiency—especially between the months of October and March. “Those who might be more prone to deficiency are strict vegans, people with dairy allergies (because vitamin D is found in dairy), anyone who has a darker skin tone, and people who are obese—fat cells absorb more and store it away, and may make up to 50 per cent less available for circulation,” says Mackintosh.
The answer lies in our diet and the supplements available to us. Offering “modest levels” of vitamin D, oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms (especially when they are left to sunbathe), can help, although won’t resolve a severe deficiency. Supplements are a good idea to cover all your bases—Public Health England recommends a daily dose of 400iu, or 10mcg, to all adults in the winter months, although you can also take higher than this.
So what do you need to look for in a vitamin D supplement? “Look for vitamin D3, over D2, and you can find vegan forms of both,” advises Mackintosh, and taking it with vitamin K2 (the two are often combined in one capsule) helps boost efficacy. “These can be in sprays, capsules, or powdered supplements, and to really find the best dose for you it’s a good idea to test to see what your personal level is first.” Pregnant women, especially, should always consult their doctor, as they may need to take higher doses.
How you take it is important too. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it absorbs better when fats are present, so always try to take it with food and a good source of healthy fats.
Here are four of the best vitamin D supplements to try now.