The sparse amount of sun we get in the UK does more than negatively affect your mood and shorten the cricket season – it also results in many Brits being deficient in vitamin D.

This essential vitamin is produced by the body when we soak up sunshine and is vital to healthy bones, teeth and muscles. The lack of sun in the UK means that around 30% of Brits have low levels of vitamin D in the winter, and 10% are deficient in the summer.

The problem is severe enough that the government advises adults to consider taking a 10microgram supplement of vitamin D daily between from October and March.

A new study has now gone further by suggesting that bread and milk should be fortified with vitamin D, saying that this could stop 3.25 million a year suffering from colds and flu.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London analysed data from more than 11,000 participants in previous studies and found that one person in every 33 taking vitamin D supplements would be spared a respiratory tract infection (ranging from the sniffles to the flu or pneumonia) as a result.

Lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau said, “Assuming a UK population of 65 million, and that 70% have at least one acute respiratory infection each year, then daily or weekly vitamin D supplements will mean 3.25 million fewer people would get at least one acute respiratory infection a year.”

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The team also suggested that expecting everyone to take supplements was unrealistic, and that the UK should consider fortifying foods like bread and milk with vitamin D. This is already done in several other countries, such as the USA, Canada, Australia and Sweden.

“Vitamin D fortification of foods provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries,” said Martineau.

For now, however, you’ll need to look beyond bread, milk and the cloudy skies above the UK for your vitamin D. If you’re not already clued-up on vitamin D supplements, here’s all the info you could possibly need on sunshine pills, as absolutely no-one calls them.

What is it?

Despite its name, vitamin D is not technically a vitamin, but actually a fat-soluble, pre-hormone compound that plays an essential role in a huge number of biological functions, including improving cognition and reducing the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and dementia. As well as being produced by your body when your skin is exposed to direct, strong sunlight , it’s is also found in low doses in certain foods, such as fish and eggs.

Do you need a vitamin D supplement?

If you live in the UK, or higher-latitude regions of the northern hemisphere, then the chances are that you will have some level of vitamin D deficiency. One of vitamin D’s main roles is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, so a severe deficiency can result in bone pain and tenderness from a condition called osteomalacia, as well as contributing to many other health issues. Supplementation can keep your levels in the ideal range to help prevent these problems, but be aware that taking high doses can deplete levels of other essential nutrients, including vitamin K.

How much do I need?

In the UK, the government recommendation is just 5mcg (200 IU) a day. Many health professionals, however, recommend up to 2,000 IU.

How should I take it?

You should take a vitamin D supplement after a meal that contains high-quality fat because it’s fat-soluble, which means it’s better absorbed by your body in the presence of dietary fat.

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