How can I maintain healthy vitamin D levels?

Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones, muscle function and general health. That is why it is important to ensure you are getting enough. Vitamin D is produced naturally in the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. For people who are not able to access the amount of sunlight exposure required to maintain their vitamin D levels, it is vital that they receive it from other sources. Listed below are ways to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.

Sensible sun exposure

It is well established that the sun contributes significantly to the production of vitamin D but too much sunlight exposure can have detrimental effects on our health. This is why it is important to take a balanced approach. During summer, most people can achieve enough vitamin D from just a few minutes of sunlight when going about their regular daily activities. In winter, in southern areas of Australia, people may need two or three hours of sunlight per week to their face, arms and hands, or equivalent area of skin, to maintain adequate levels.1 As a general guide to how much sun you should be getting according to location and season, read ‘How much sun should I be getting every day’.

Vitamin D rich foods

There are small amounts of vitamin D in some foods, which can contribute to your overall vitamin D levels. This includes fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, fish liver oils, eggs from hens that have been fed vitamin D and products that are fortified with vitamin.2 It is very difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone with most people only acquiring 5-10% of their daily intake of vitamin D from food.3 It is therefore important to include other vitamin D sources such as sensible sun exposure or a vitamin D supplement, to ensure adequate vitamin D levels are maintained.

Vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D supplements may be necessary to maintain adequate levels in some people. This includes those who:

  • Don’t spend enough time in the sun
  • For health or cosmetic reasons
  • Due to having an occupation with little sun exposure such as office workers, night- shift workers and taxi drivers3
  • Hospitalised or institutionalised individuals3
  • Have naturally dark skin – People with dark skin synthesise less vitamin D when exposed to sunlight compared to those with fairer skin2
  • Wear concealing clothing for cultural or religious reasons
  • Are older – The elderly have a reduced capacity to produce vitamin D in their skin when exposed to sunlight and are also more likely to stay indoors2
  • Are overweight – When vitamin D is produced in the skin it is deposited in the body’s fat stores for later use. This makes it less available to people with large stores of body fat.2

Daily exercise

Regular exercise can assist with the body’s production of vitamin D,3 and may therefore be a useful adjunct to maintaining healthy vitamin D levels.