Lorraine: Dr Amir says spine could shrink if deficient in vitamin D
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Autumn is here in the UK and as the days get shorter, it’s time to think about topping up your vitamin D levels with a supplement. Vitamin D is vital to our overall health, particularly for bones and teeth. Many countries across Europe are vitamin D deficient, but how does the UK compare?
Vitamin D is nicknamed the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because of how we receive it: through sunlight on our skin.
We need vitamin D to keep our bones, teeth and muscles strong and healthy.
Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium too, so without vitamin D you can’t reap the benefits of a calcium-rich diet for healthy bones and teeth.
You can get vitamin D from some foods, but the advice from the NHS is people in the UK should take a vitamin D supplement throughout the winter months to ensure you’re hitting your vitamin D requirements.
So, if we’re not getting enough sunshine in the UK to hit our vitamin D targets, how do we compare with the rest of Europe?
The map below shows the countries coming in below the recommended amount of vitamin D, presented here in nanomoles per litre.
Low vitamin D is anything below 30 nmol/L, adequate is 50 nmol/L and high is 125 nmol/L.
Well, the answers might surprise you. Look at the map of vitamin D deficiency across Europe.
Which European country gets the most vitamin D?
The Swedish come out on top when it comes to vitamin D. Despite having very disparate levels of sunshine throughout the year: in Stockholm in January the sun rises at 8.47am before setting at 2.55pm, while in July the sun rises at 3.40am and sets at 10pm.
In the far north of Sweden, the sun doesn’t set at all in June, and sees darkness around the clock in January. This is because of Sweden’s position in the northern hemisphere.
So, why are the Swedish getting so much vitamin D?
Well, all that sunshine in the summer months is bound to help, but what about the winter?
Swedish health authorities recommend every person living in Sweden takes a vitamin D supplement. Also, vitamin D is found in oily fish, which is a major part of the typical Swedish diet.
In Sweden, many everyday foods like milk are fortified with extra vitamin D too.
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Which European country has the highest vitamin D deficiency?
Austria emerged as the country with the lowest vitamin D levels, although researchers in Austria are working to raise awareness of this and encourage people to take supplements.
A large Austrian study, taking place over 20 years with almost 80,000 participants, found a link between low levels of vitamin D and a shorter lifespan.
In northern Europe, Finland, Russia and Estonia, aren’t getting enough vitamin D, at 25-50 nanomoles per litre. This may be due to their positioning in the north, meaning they get less sunlight.
Surprisingly, sunny Mediterranean countries Italy and Greece emerged as countries with relatively high levels of vitamin D deficiency.
Reasons suggested for this include that, paradoxically, residents of sunnier countries may favour shade more, as opposed to Britons’ reputation for chasing the smallest patches of sun during the summer.
Also, people with darker skin tend to be more prone to vitamin D deficiency, because they have more of the pigment melanin. Melanin reduces your skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D.
Some countries where it is customary to cover a lot of your skin also see higher levels of vitamin D deficiency, despite a sunny climate.
The UK, alongside France, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands and Norway, has an OK vitamin D intake, but it could be higher.
As we enter the winter, it’s time to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure you’re getting enough.
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