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Don't be deficient with vitamin D

A blood test is the only way to discover whether you have don't have enough vitamin D, says Dominic Harrington

As we come to the end of darker days when the sunshine is too dim for our bodies to make all-important vitamin D, April is a good time to see whether we have enough in reserve to see us through to spring.

For most of us, spending 15 minutes a day with just our face and hands in direct sunlight from the end of March until the end of September will allow us to produce enough vitamin D to be stored for use the following winter.

As we get older, however, our thinning skin makes it increasingly difficult to make enough vitamin D, which means some of us will be running on empty at this time of the year. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, and a deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis and brittle bone disease.

Government advice is that everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement for their bone health in the winter months, between October and March, if they cannot get enough exposure to sunlight. However, there is a growing body of evidence which calls into question whether the pills actually help bone health.

Everybody needs vitamin D; the question is whether we should get it from supplements or rely on our body making it from exposure to sunlight and from the small number of foods containing it, such as cod liver oil, offal, egg yolk and oily fish including salmon and mackerel.

The only way to be sure you do not have a deficiency is by having a blood test. Viapath Nutris has developed a £35 postal blood test, or you can book on appointment at its London centre at St Thomas' Hospital. 

Click here to find out more

Dominic Harrington is chief scientific officer at Viapath Nutris, part funded by the NHS and based at London's St Thomas' Hospital.