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The GP's View: Going outside is the best way to get vital vitamin D

We're advised to take vitamin D supplements in winter but making your own – by going outside and exposing yourself, with care, to the sun – is best
Dr Martin Scurr

FOLLOWING an urgent review, we are now not going to be advised to take vitamin D supplements to reduce our risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.

We are all told to take the vitamin, which is formed in the skin during sun exposure, in the winter, and many are concerned that staying inside during lockdown has meant we are now at risk of being deficient in the nutrient.

We know that the vitamin is vital for bone health, but apart from that, hard data about its benefits is lacking. For instance, while having low levels of vitamin D is associated with an increased incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, are low levels the cause or the effect of the infection?

That's why evidence about the vitamin D status of those with Covid-19 was urgently sought.

The virus started to spread here at the end of winter, when our vitamin D levels are typically low. The theory is that vitamin D helps to protect the lining of the respiratory tract. It is also likely that it limits the inflammatory response to the virus – and it's this response in the lungs that causes much of the severity of the illness.

However, this week Britain's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence ruled there is not enough good evidence that the vitamin protects against a severe Covid infection.

The picture is complex and the only advice I can offer is to do your best not to be vitamin D deficient, by eating eggs, red meat and oily fish, and exposing your skin to sunshine, but not excessively.

Also, consider taking a vitamin D supplement as the chances of getting enough sunshine may yet be limited: most doctors recommend getting 1000IU vitamin D3 daily, more than the 10mcg recommended by the government.

However, there has been evidence in the past that naturally derived vitamin D is more effective at preventing osteoporosis than supplements.

Could this be a reason why we hear that Covid-19 is likely to regress with summer weather?

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