Everyone should be taking Vitamin D supplements according to the government. The Guardian reports that new guidelines drafted by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition says that from the age of 1, 10 microgram pills should be taken by everyone to ensure we get enough Vitamin D in gloomy Britain, where seeing the sun's rays breach the cloud cover is as rare as successfully guessing which day it's worth bringing an umbrella to work.
The guidelines aren't quite 'official', having gone out to consultation. But it does suggest that we'll soon be hearing a lot more about Vitamin D. (The current official advice is that only pregnant women, kids under 5 and OAPs should be taking supplements).
So what to do?
Please Note: Though we've gone to lengths to ensure our points here are from credible medical sources, this should not be considered medical advice. If you have any medical concerns concerning Vitamin D deficiency, you should ask your doctor.
What is Vitamin D?
So it turns out that Vitamin D isn't actually a vitamin at all, but is a steroid hormone that is produced by the body under the right conditions. It is important to a number of important things, including helping bones grow, and improving our immune systems. If you don't get enough Vitamin D, you're at risk of getting rickets.
Vitamin D comes in a number of forms - known as D1 through to D5 - with D2 and D3 being most common. D3 is the one that is produced by the body, though D2 supplements, which are produced by fungi, can be taken too.
Exactly how much Vitamin D do I need?
It depends on where you live and what colour your skin is. If you live near the equator, you're basically fine all year around. But if you're in Britain then... well.... those clouds aren't just making the weather miserable, but they're making your body miserable too.
The NHS reckons that between 11am and 3pm are the best hours to be outside soaking up the sun, with only 10-15 minutes of exposure needed for light-skinned people to get their fill. Apparently between November and March it is a bit of a write-off in any case, as the light doesn't contain enough ultra-violet radiation to start with.
The Vitamin D council has produced the above chart, which splits people up into different groups based on their characteristics. If you're a type I-III, then you don't need much exposure to produce lots of Vitamin D. But if you're in the other groups, then you may need to give it slightly longer.
Of course, it isn't quite that simple as there are a myriad of other complications, such as how much skin you're exposing to sunlight. Having less clothes on means more surface area for the sun to hit, for example. But there's also your altitude to take into consideration, and the exact weather conditions at any given time. Even wearing sunscreen can also complicate things.
What about food, is that any better?
I hope you like fish. Oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon are all good sources of Vitamin D.
Eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, fat spreads, and some powdered milks also contain Vitamin D.
Then, of course, there are supplements. The Vitamin D Council recommends taking D3 supplements - though be warned, these are not vegetarian. If you don't want to take supplements made from animals, D2 is your better option, apparently.
Is there such thing as too much of a good thing?
Without doubt, yes. Doctors recommend not taking more than 25 micrograms of supplements a day as it could be harmful. If you take too many supplements it could cause a calcium build-up and damage your kidneys. And conversely, too much Vitamin D can remove calcium from your bones, weakening them.
Similarly, none of the need to get more Vitamin D negates the need to take care when spending time in the sun: Sun burn and skin cancer are still big risks too, and shouldn't be ignored in your quest for Vitamin D.