We have known for decades that Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting bone health, but it is only in recent years that it has been pitched as a vitamin that could also fight off cold and flu. Is it true that Vitamin D can keep the common cold at bay, and if so, how do we make sure that we're getting enough of it?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is produced by the body naturally when the skin is directly exposed to sunlight. That's why you may have heard it be referred to as the 'sunshine vitamin'. It is an important nutrient because it helps to regulate levels of calcium and phosphate, both of which are essential for maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Lack of Vitamin D in the body can result in a variety of health problems and bone deformities such as osteomalacia and rickets.
Many of us can get all the Vitamin D we need from the sun during the spring and summer months to keep us healthy, but it can be tricky to get enough sun exposure during autumn and winter when daylight hours are much shorter. Furthermore, since most of us wear sunscreen during sun exposure to protect our skin against the harmful impact of UV rays such as sunburn and increased risk of skin cancer, even during summer we might not be getting enough direct sunlight on the skin to produce adequate Vitamin D.
During winter, our bodies rely on getting enough Vitamin D from foods, but there is not a huge variety of foods that contain high levels of the vitamin. The best food sources of Vitamin D include:
- Red meat
- Oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and fat spreads
How does Vitamin D help with colds?
In 2017 the results of a global study analysis on Vitamin D were published, revealing that the vitamin plays an important role in minimising the risk of respiratory infections such as colds and flu. The analysis pooled the data of 25 different studies involving a total of 10,000 participants to examine whether Vitamin D supplements could reduce the number of respiratory infections. It found that the vitamin can indeed reduce the risk of infection by around 10% on average.
Most interestingly, the analysis found that participants who were Vitamin D deficient at the beginning of the study saw the most benefits. Their risk of infection was halved after Vitamin D supplementation. This data goes to show that there is an important link between healthy Vitamin D levels and prevention of colds and flu.
It is worth noting, however, that even with adequate Vitamin D levels it is still possible to develop a respiratory infection. The risk is reduced but not completely eliminated. Furthermore, Vitamin D won't necessarily reduce the severity of symptoms of an infection should it occur, or help the body recover from it more quickly. Despite this, the evidence seems clear that Vitamin D could be good for colds in terms of prevention.
Who is most at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Certain people are at a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency as a result of pre-existing health conditions. Those with coeliac disease or other digestive disorders are one example because their bodies are unable to absorb nutrients from food efficiently which can lead to a range of nutrient deficiencies. Women with osteopenia or osteoporosis are at risk of deficiency because they require more Vitamin D than usual to maintain bone health.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are another risk group. This is because their bodies require higher amounts of vitamin D to support their growing baby or breastmilk production.
Finally, people who do not get frequent exposure to sunlight are also at risk of deficiency. This might be because they don't get much time outdoors during the spring and summer months, or because they tend to cover most of their skin when outside. People in care homes or those with mobility problems are examples of groups who might find it difficult to get outside often enough to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels.
How can I make sure I get enough Vitamin D?
If you're concerned about getting enough Vitamin D to keep bones healthy and help to keep colds at bay, there are several things you can do. First, try to get out into the sun for short periods every day during spring and summer with your hands, forearms or legs uncovered and without sunscreen. However, it is vital that you do not stay in the sun long enough to burn and that you apply sunscreen if planning to be in direct sunlight for several hours.
During autumn and winter we rely on food as our source of Vitamin D, so try eating more fatty fish, eggs, and foods fortified with Vitamin D such as cereal. Mushrooms can also be a good source of Vitamin D, particularly wild mushrooms which tend to get more exposure to sunlight when growing.
If you find it tricky to get enough Vitamin D it might be easier for you to take a daily supplement. Our Vitamin D Gummies are a simple and delicious way to incorporate more of the sunshine vitamin into your diet. They contain 2000 IU of Vitamin D each, providing a total of 4000 IU when the recommended dose of two gummies per day are consumed. Flavoured with mango essence, they're a tasty alternative to vitamin D capsules or tablets which many people find difficult to swallow.