Vitamin D is an important vitamin, responsible for regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body – nutrients essential for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors, so from late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need.
But between October and early March some people stand risk of not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.
During these months, the Department of Health recommends adults and children over the age of five to get all the vitamin D they need from diet, because the strong isn’t strong enough.
But as it’s difficult to get enough of the vitamin from food alone, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement.
But taking too much vitamin D can come with its own health complications.
The NHS warns: “Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia). This can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.”
Recognising the symptoms of taking too much vitamin D can help avoid these complications, and one shown in studies to note is constipation.
In one case study, a boy developed stomach pain and constipation after taking improperly labeled vitamin D supplements, whereas his brother experienced elevated blood levels without any other symptoms.
But constipation isn’t the only change in bowel habit taking too much vitamin D can cause.
In another case study, an 18-month old child who was given 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 for three months experienced diarrhoea, stomach pain and other symptoms.
These symptoms resolved after the child stopped taking the supplements.
So how much vitamin D supplements should you take?
The NHS advises: “If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, 10 micrograms a day will be enough for most people.
“Don’t take more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day as it could be harmful. This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17 years.
“Children aged 1 to 10 years shouldn’t have more than 50 micrograms a day. Infants under 12 months shouldn’t have more than 25 micrograms a day.
“Some people have medical conditions that mean they may not be able to safely take as much. If in doubt, you should consult your doctor.
“If your doctor has recommended you take a different amount of vitamin D, you should follow their advice.”
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
Some people may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
The Department of Health recommends you take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if you:
- Aren’t often outdoors – for example, if you’re frail or housebound
- Are in an institution like a care home
- Usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
If you have dark skin, for example, if you have an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background, you may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight.
You should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.