Vitamin D deficiency is more common during this time of year in the UK because the sun (the main source) is in short supply.
It’s an important vitamin when it comes to healthy function of the body. It helps regulate the amount of minerals calcium and phosphate in the body. These are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Insufficient levels of vitamin D can cause symptoms such as constipation and increased susceptibility to infection.
But another symptom of vitamin D deficiency many people may not be aware of is when you press your breastbone.
The breastbone, also known as the sternum, is located in the middle of your chest and ribcage, and if you feel pain when you press it, it could be a sign of a deficiency in vitamin D, says Karen Langston, a spokesperson for the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.
Speaking to Arthritis Foundation she explained: “The biggest concern [of vitamin D deficiency] is osteomalacia, or the softening of the bones.
“In children, it’s called rickets. It also can cause brittle bones, weak muscles.
“Other symptoms are fractures of the hip and pelvis, bone pain and tenderness, tooth decay and hearing loss because the bones in the ear become soft.”
If you suspect you have symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency you should go see your GP who can discuss treatment options.
So how can you avoid a deficiency in the vitamin in the first place?
While the best source of the vitamin is from sunlight, it can also be gained by eating certain foods.
The Association of UK Dieticians recommends nine foods to eat to help your body get vitamin D:
Oily fish – this includes salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and kippers. Eels also contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D.
Cod liver oil contains a lot of vitamin D, but pregnant women are advised against taking it.
Egg yolk, meat, offal and milk contain small amounts but the levels can vary during the different seasons.
Finally, margarine, some breakfast cereals and some yoghurts have added or are ‘fortified’ with vitamin D.
Alongside eating a vitamin D-rich diet, taking vitamin D supplements is recommended.
The dietitian trade union advises: “All adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D especially during autumn and winter.
“Those in the risk groups, as above, should consider taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D all year round.
“All babies under one year should be given a daily supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms unless they have more than 500ml of fortified formula milk.”
If you spend short periods of time in the sun on most days, without sunscreen, from early April to the end of September, (without burning) you should make sufficient vitamin D to meet your needs if the UV index is greater than 3, according to Dr Sarah Brewer.