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Preventing Vitamin D Deficiency

Globally, countries have started lock downs and are encouraging social distancing. This means unless essential, people are spending more time at home working, studying and help flatten the curve. Despite this unprecedented pandemic, if we look at it on the bright side - we are being more cautious and aware of our own health than ever before. We are cooking more meals at home, and are try seek every opportunity to stay fit and active. However, from a dietitian point of view, there are several things that come into mind.

  • We are probably not moving around as much, spending more time sitting down - this reduces our overall daily physical activity

  • Everyday we are exposed to ongoing updates on the pandemic and this can cause a lot of anxiety. Ultimately not great for our mental health.

  • We might be more tempted to snack more often as we have more time and kitchen is more accessible

  • Lastly, the main topic of this post - we might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Why is Vitamin D important?

Vitamin D is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood. It is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health (Better Health VIC).

Low vitamin D or vitamin D deficiency can have significant health effects including:

  • Reduced bone density

  • Increased risk of bone diseases such as rickets (children), osteoporosis and oestomalacia (adults)

  • Increased risk of falls and fractures especially in people aged over 50

  • Research has also suggested that it plays a role in diabetes prevention and management, cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment

Sources of vitamin D

The best way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure (UVB). Some foods do contain vitamin D, however they are present in low levels and is challenging to reach recommended levels with it alone. The amount absorbed in the sun varies per individual with consideration of skin colour, skin exposure and season or UVB levels.

Recommendations (Adequate Intake, AI):

For children under age of 18: 5.0 µg/day

Adults aged 19-50: 5.0 µg/day

Adults aged 51-70: 10.0 µg/day

Adults aged over 70: 15.0 µg/day

Pregnant women: 5.0 µg/day

Source: NHMRC Australia

In addition to sun exposure, you can also obtain vitamin D from food and supplements. The best food sources are fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel, liver and eggs.  In Australia, vitamin D is added to margarine. Some milk, soy drinks, breads and cereals may also be fortified with vitamin D. Look out for any health claims on food packaging and the nutrition information panel to check if the product contains vitamin D (FSANZ).

Do I need supplements?

Before commencing supplementation, be sure to seek advice from your doctor. In general, if you have adequate sun exposure and eat a wide variety of foods including vitamin D containing foods - you do not need supplements. As a general guide according to Osteoporosis Australia, for people who obtain some sun exposure but do not achieve the recommended level of exposure:

  • Under 70 years: at least 600 IU per day.

  • Over 70 years: at least 800 IU per day.

  • For sun avoiders or people at risk of vitamin D deficiency (see ‘Vitamin D deficiency’ to find out if you may be at risk), higher doses may be required: 1,000-2,000 IU per day.

  • For people with moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency – (levels lower than 30 nmol/L): 3,000-5,000 IU per day may be required for 6-12 weeks to raise the vitamin D level quickly, followed by a maintenance dose of 1,000-2,000 IU per day. This should be supervised by your doctor.

Note: It may take 3-5 months for a full improvement in vitamin D levels to be seen, so it is important to take supplements as advised.


Osteoporosis Australia

Better Health Victoria

Department of Health, Australia

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