UK employees should increase Vitamin D levels

The British winter has been in the news this week and many of us won’t be too shocked to discover that research has concluded that it isn’t sunny enough.  On a serious note though, the best source of vitamin D is sunlight and it is believed that many of us are not getting enough Vitamin D from sunlight putting us at risk of deadly ailments.

The current Government advice is that only at risk groups, including pregnant women, babies and adults aged over 65, need to take supplements.  Vitamin D is crucial for maintaining strong bones, fighting infections and ensuring the proper functioning of your muscles, brain, lungs and heart. A deficiency of this vitamin can lead to asthma, cancer, bone problems, heart disease,  type 1 diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent advisory body to the government have advised that people in Britain should boost their vitamin D intake with supplements because of a lack of bright sunshine to provide it naturally. The British weather prevents much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight, and natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels, according to the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN).

More than 1 in 5 people have low levels of vitamin D which is almost certainly having adverse affects on the UK working population as it may have other important roles in the body including regulating cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. 

As an employer, there are some practical steps you can take to ensure that your workforce are getting the recommended levels of Vitamin D:

1. Add vitamin D rich foods to your canteen menus or educate staff on the benefits of eating good vitamin D foods such as oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), eggs and milk. Some margarines and low-fat milks have added vitamin D. 

2. During winter or if your employees are based in an area that gets minimal sun exposure, you may need to source vitamin D3 supplements. Be careful with this though because taking too large a dose can lead to vitamin D toxicity. This is why sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, as the body will only take and generate what it needs.

3. When little sunlight is available, ensure that your staff take regular breaks outdoors and go for a walk. This is essential during the winter time when many employees are indoors during the sunlight hours.

4. Encourage regular exercise as this assists with the production of vitamin D. 

Please remember that short daily periods of sun exposure without sunscreen during the summer months (April to October) are enough for most people to make enough vitamin D. Evidence suggests that the most effective time of day for vitamin D production is between 11am and 3pm.  The longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater your risk of skin cancer.