New evidence is emerging that vitamin D could help reduce your risk of getting coronavirus. Vitamin D is key in keeping your bones healthy, and is also understood to help your immune system, but new research suggests it could also be key in fighting Covid-19.
Most vitamin D in humans comes from exposure to direct sunlight. Usually, most people get enough sunlight in our daily routines to keep our vitamin D levels healthy. As many of us are staying in more than usual, many health organisations have been recommending people take a vitamin D supplement during lockdown (read on for the best places to buy).
However, vitamin D could have a more direct link to staying healthy during the pandemic. A study from Anglia Ruskin University (opens in new tab) in Cambridge showed that European countries with lower vitamin D levels also recorded more Covid-19 deaths. A link could explain why minority ethnic groups with dark skin are disproportionately affected by the virus, as higher levels of melanin in the skin mean the body creates less vitamin D.
Since April, Public Health England (PHE) has recommended (opens in new tab) people take 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day. On 3 June, the Scottish government specifically recommended (opens in new tab) vitamin D supplements for BAME groups with darker skin, alongside other groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including anyone who's pregnant or breastfeeding, and those under 5 or over 64.
Where to buy vitamin D tablets
Vitamin D comes from direct exposure to sunlight, and is included in a small number of foods (read on for more details). To boost vitamin D levels, you can also take a supplement. A 10 microgram supplement per day is recommended as enough for most people.
Supplements come in the form of vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is the form produced by plants, and Vitamin D3 is the from made by your skin from sunlight. While you need both forms, if you're going to go for one type of supplement, most sources recommend D3 – due to how the liver metabolises both forms, D3 seems to be more effective (see Healthline (opens in new tab) for more on this).
Here are some places you can order vitamin D supplements in the UK:
- Holland & Barrett (opens in new tab) – Buy one jar, get one for a penny
- Chemist.co.uk (opens in new tab) – Tablets, sprays, and kid-friendly gummies
- Amazon.co.uk (opens in new tab) – A range of brands and strengths available
- Boots (opens in new tab) – 3 for 2 on selected vitamins
- Waitrose & Partners (opens in new tab) – Add to your weekly shop
- Superdrug (opens in new tab) – 3 for 2 on selected vitamins
- Bulk Powders (opens in new tab) – Vitamin D3 and D2 supplements
- Tesco (opens in new tab) – 3 for 2 on selected vitamins; do you grocery shopping at the same time
- Pharmacy First (opens in new tab) – Some special offers
- The Independent Pharmacy (opens in new tab) – Chewable tablets and capsules
And here's where to buy vitamin D supplements in the US:
- Walmart (opens in new tab) – Lots in stock, some with next day or free delivery
- Amazon.com (opens in new tab) – Lots of brands and types to choose from
- Walgreens (opens in new tab) – Some buy one, get one free (although some brands sold out already)
How to get vitamin D from sunlight
Direct sunlight on the skin causes the bodies to create vitamin D. According to NHS guidelines, it's recommended you sit outside in the sun for a short period each day during the spring/summer months (early April to the end of September), especially around 11am-3pm, with some exposed skin (for example forearms, hands or lower legs), without sunscreen, in order to keep vitamin D levels up.
Of course, too much time in the sun carries risks of skin cancer. Sunscreen blocks vitamin D creation, and you should avoid staying out long enough to start burning (take a look at Cancer Research's advice on going out in the sun safely (opens in new tab)). How much time you can spend in the sun safely will vary from person to person, but those with dark skin require more sun exposure to make as much vitamin D as those with lighter skin.
In normal circumstances, a daily routine for most people would provide the required sun exposure necessary to produce enough vitamin D to stay healthy. However, many people are going outside less than usual at the moment, as a result of lockdown rules.
What foods are high in vitamin D?
Although our main source of vitamin D is sunlight, there are also some foods that contain it. These include oily fish (for example salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring), red meat and eggs. By law, vitamin D is added in small amounts to all infant formula milk. It may also be added to some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives.
What does vitamin D do?
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from food and drink, and is essential for strong, healthy bones. In children, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets, while in adults it can cause osteomalacia. Vitamin D is also understood to help boost your immune system.
How much vitamin D is too much?
For adults, more than than 100 micrograms of vitamin D each day could be harmful (this includes those whose are pregnant or breastfeeding, the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17 years). For those aged 1-10 years, anything over 50 micrograms a day is not recommended, while for babies under 12 months, it's anything over 25 micrograms a day.
It's impossible to overdose on vitamin D from sunlight, but extended periods of sunlight exposure is unhealthy in other ways.