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Vitamin D and Winter - what you need to know

When the nights started drawing in and the winter sun, or lack of it took hold, you most likely thought back to the summers months of warm sunshine and lovely long summers days. When we were enjoying that warm sunshine we are all too aware of the risk of sunburn and related health issues but more often than not we took for granted that the sun plays an amazing role in providing our daily need of vitamin D via sunlight exposure. From March to September when the sun is at its peak our bodies can easily create vitamin D from direct sunlight but as the days shorten our ability to get enough vitamin D diminishes.

Government guidelines

In 2016 the Department of Health carried out a health report by The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). From the evidence presented the report highlighted that many people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency in the UK and that vitamin D is vital to our health. It is estimated the one in five adults in the UK may have low levels and they are concerned that efficient levels may not be possible from purely dietary intake especially during the winter months when sunlight is in short supply.

Vitamin D and sunlight

The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposure to the sun, our bodies were designed that way. The amount of vitamin D we get from the sun depends on a number of factors including: the colour of our skin, where we live, the time of day and the amount of skin we expose.

Your skin type

When exposing our skin to sunlight (UVB rays) our skin type plays an important role and its all down to melanin. The melanin is the substance the affects how dark or light your skin colour is, less melanin = light skin colour, more melanin = darker skin colour. This in turn affects our body's ability to produce vitamin D, lighter skin colour allows more UVB to enter and produces higher amounts of vitamin D where as darker skin colour allows less UVB rays and less vitamin D is produced. It has been estimated that the body can produce between 10,000 and 25,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D from sun light exposure during the time leading up before your skin starts to burn. The body is able to make most use of UVB rays when larger areas of the skin is exposed, like your back compared to smaller areas like your arms or face.

Where you live also has an impact

You might have gathered from the beginning of the blog that I live in the UK (we always love talking about the weather here!) and living in the northern hemisphere has its down sides, especially in the winter. During the months from October to April the sun's rays are at more of an angle and the atmosphere blocks the UVB part of the light meaning that our skin can't produce enough vitamin D. We also spend more time indoors and when outside we are well wrapped up, combined with  skin colour could mean little or no vitamin D is produced.

Vitamin D2 vs Vitamin D3

Vitamin D2 known as ergocalciferol is widely used in supplements but this is not the form of vitamin D our body produces when exposed to sunlight. Research has shown that vitamin D3 known as cholecalciferol is the better form of vitamin D and combined with the fact the body produces vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB rays, we at Health Leads UK recommend vitamin D3 over vitamin D2.

How much vitamin D do we need?

The SACN recommend that everyone over the age of one years old should consume RNI (reference nutrient intake) of 10 mcg micrograms (equivalent to 400 iu) of vitamin D everyday to protect bone and muscle health. It is unlikely this can be achieved from sunlight during the winter months, therefore people need to consider supplementing if it is not possible to get it from diet alone. In the United States of America the Food and Nutrition Board recommend 400iu daily for infants, 600iu daily for children and 600iu to 800iu daily for adults. During World War II the National Academy of Sciences set guidelines to make sure soldiers were getting enough nutrients from their food. The basis from these findings have been used for the general public during the late 1990's under the new name of Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA's). Now with European intervention in December 2014 these are now called Nutrient Reference Values (NRV's). Confusing, well hopefully not, RDA's and NRV's are exactly the same. Unfortunately these levels were set for the average person only to avoid showing signs of deficiency. A good example of this the NRV for vitamin C at 60mg but this amount is what required just to keep us from getting scurvy, so I think it is easy to see that the NRV's are not the optimal levels of nutrients needed but the absolute minimum. It is widely known that safe nutrient daily intake can be many times more the NRV levels. Additionally they do not take into consideration modern lifestyle eating habits and soil depletion. A study in 2004 was published by Austins Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that showed during 1950 to 1999 43 types of fruit and vegetables had reliable declines in the quantities of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C.

Buying vitamin D3 supplements

When buying vitamin D supplements always check which form is used as if it only says "vitamin D" and no number after it, its most likely the D2 form. Here at Health Leads UK we have carefully have selected vitamin D in the form of vitamin D3 cholecalciferol as this form is produced by the body and converted faster than vitamin D2. We are also very proud that we manufacture our own Vitamin D3 food supplements without any nasty additives, available in 400iu and 2000iu. That's why we've been pioneering additive free since 1998.

You can purchase Vitamin D3 through our website, but don't forget to get your discount code direct from our Facebook Page

6 thoughts on “Vitamin D and Winter - what you need to know”

  • Fran

    Thanks for this article - very informative! I have been taking D3 supplements on my brother's recommendation, so it's good to see you are confirming the science here :)

    • admin

      Thanks Fran, glad you enjoyed the article!

      • Maz

        Hi I have read lots of articles on D3 and most suggest it is vital to take K2 ( in its k7 form) alongside it. Also calcium, vit A and magnesium.
        Could Health Leads give some more information on that please?
        Thank you

        • HealthLeadsUK

          There are quite a number of articles discussing the importance of getting sufficient amounts of K2 if supplementing vitamin D, calcium and magnesium also play a vital role. You can read more at

  • Wojciech

    Good info.
    However, I think it would be beneficial if you mention supplementation of vit. D3 together with K2

    • HealthLeadsUK

      Hi, yes that's a good point, I think we will have to discuss this in a future blog, thanks for the feedback, very helpful.

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