Low resistance to winter colds? Take the test

Reduced levels of vitamin D are common in this country during the winter, with up to 50 percent of adults believed to be deficient (particularly those living in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

That’s because the the vitamin is made in the skin in response to strong sunlight. And as anyone who lives in the UK knows, sunlight tends to be in short supply here in wintertime, whatever part of the country you live in.

If you want to find out if your level of vitamin D is low, you can ask your GP for a simple blood test that will confirm it. But according to a survey by nutritional supplements company Pharma Nord, 75 percent of people in the UK have never had a vitamin D test.

Meanwhile, a lack of sunlight doesn’t help when it comes to vitamin D deficiency. But most Brits aren’t exposed to much sunlight anyway, because they spend nearly all their time indoors, the survey suggests. A third of adults in this country spend less than an hour a day outdoors, with just five percent spending more than four hours outside.

This ‘indoor’ lifestyle may make it even more difficult for your body to get the vitamin D it needs, especially when you consider that 90 percent of your vitamin D requirement comes from sun exposure.

And while many people may be aware that a lack of sunlight is linked to winter depression – a type of depression also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – fewer may realise that it’s linked to poor immune health, again because of the way it affects vitamin D levels.

This isn’t good news during the winter months, as it could make you more susceptible to all those cold and flu viruses that are circulating (this may in part explain why more than half of those completing the survey said they regularly catch colds and flu during the winter).

Who needs extra vitamin D?

“There needs to be greater awareness of the risk of vitamin D deficiency in the UK,” says Dr Chris Steel, medical doctor and ITV This Morning’s resident GP.

“While all of us could be affected, the higher risk groups include those aged over 65, pregnant and breastfeeding women, ethnic minorities, children and people who spend large amounts of time indoors.

“I would urge all UK adults, and particularly people in these groups, to discuss with their GP a vitamin D test and the taking of a high quality vitamin D supplement. There is often confusion over the best form of vitamin D to take, so look for vitamin D3 as this form is identical to the kind produced naturally in the skin. Also oil-based capsules can be more easily absorbed by the body compared to dry, chalky tablets.”

Feeling better

Berni Taylor, 47, an account manager at a digital printing agency, doesn’t belong to any of the higher risk groups. Yet after having a test she discovered she had a vitamin D deficiency, and now takes a vitamin D supplement.

“I went to my GP for a blood test which revealed I was vitamin D deficient,” she says. “I had no idea that this would be the case so was quite shocked. Now I feel a lot better in myself and have noticed that I have more energy.

“I’m also hopeful that my immune system will be stronger and I’ll catch fewer colds and flu as I am no longer deficient in vitamin D. I would advise anyone to consider having a vitamin D test as you could be living with deficiency like me. I have really noticed a difference since taking a daily supplement.”

If you think you may have low levels of vitamin D, it may be a good idea to ask your GP about having a blood test.

“Common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include tiredness or fatigue, low mood particularly during the winter months and a greater susceptibility to colds and flu,” explains Dr David Mangle, Pharma Nord medical adviser.

“That said, worryingly, there are a large number of people like Berni living with deficiency and completely unaware. The only way to know for sure is to be tested for deficiency.”

If you’re not sure whether you’re having symptoms that may indicate a vitamin D deficiency, ask your local Careway pharmacist for advice. Your pharmacist can also help you to choose a vitamin D supplement to boost your levels if you need one Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.