Vitamin D is being recommended to reduce the risk of coronavirus. How much should you take and which are the best supplements to buy? From vegan to child-friendly, here's what to shop for
We’ve long known that in the UK we need to supplement vitamin D in winter because our paltry sun isn't sufficient for us to make the levels we need. "In the UK between the months of September and May our levels of UV radiation aren't high enough for our bodies to make vitamin D," Dr Sophie Shotter explains.
It was also announced back in June last year that the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was conducting a rapid review into the issue of vitamin D supplementation after new studies revealing Covid sufferers are more likely to die if they lack the vitamin. Dr Lee Smith of Anglia Ruskin Universit y analysed data from 20 European countries and found an association between low average levels of vitamin D and high numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
“Vitamin D has been shown to protect against acute respiratory infections, and older adults, the group most deficient in vitamin D, are also the ones most seriously affected by Covid-19," he said. The countries with some of the lowest death rates were the Scandinavian countries, where people took vitamin D supplements to make up for the lack of sunshine, he noted.
The NHS has also revised its vitamin D guideline s from supplementing daily in the winter months to include Covid-19 lockdown as well. "Consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day to keep your bones and muscles healthy. This is because you may not be getting enough vitamin D from sunlight if you’re indoors most of the day," it says.
Vitamin D plays an important role in immunity too. The British Medical Journal, in a recent statement on Covid-19, singled out vitamin D as beneficial for the immune system during the pandemic. "Vitamin D3 plays a key role in the immune systems, the highly complex mechanisms in the body that are designed to help protect people against a host of infectious agents, including bacteria and viruses."
It added we should all be taking essential micronutrients, especially, vitamin D to support our immune system and reduce the spread and effects of the disease. "Their contribution to the resilience of the population to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly vitamin D, should have higher priority for both patients, all medical and care home staff as well as the general population."
How much vitamin D should you take?
Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and head of nutrition for Healthspan, points out that 10µg (micrograms) is the minimum amount we should be consuming and that most vitamin D supplements have 25µg or 1000IU of vitamin D, which is safe for everyone age 12 and over. Some have a high-strength dose of 75µg /3000IU and up to 5000IU can be prescribed for deficiency by a specialist - but always stick to the label guidelines, as it is possible to have too much.
An important source of vitamin D is of course diet, however, if you're vegan, you'll likely be aware that it can be extra hard to get your daily allowance of vitamin D that way owing to the fact that much vitamin D is derived from oily fish and dairy products. Many vitamin D supplements aren't vegan friendly either as the form used is made from lanolin derived from sheep's wool.
What to look for in a good vitamin D supplement
When choosing your vitamin D supplement, look for D3, the most readily absorbable form of vitamin D, advises Rob. Nutritional Therapist Daniel O'Shaughnessy advises taking it in drop form as oil helps the absorption as "vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone" (yes it's actually a hormone).
How to take it is down to personal choice, advises Rob Hobson. “Take it in the way that you know you will stick with - gummies or sprays are good for most people,” he says. “As we get older, our absorption in the gut slows down so sprays are good from middle age onwards as they are absorbed through the lining of mouth into the bloodstream.”
Dr Sophie Shotter advises looking for a combined supplement with D, K and A, as taking vitamin D longterm can cause a depletion of vitamins K and A
One slightly confusing thing about vitamin D is how it’s measured. You might see it in micrograms/μg or in IU (International Units, used to measure the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K).
The recommended dosage of 10µg vitamin D daily translates to 400IU. One IU (international unit) equals 0.025mcg (micrograms/μg). The supplement dose of 25µg equates to 1000IU.
Here’s our pick of vitamin D supplements and who they’re best suited for.
Best vegan and oil drop vitamin D supplement
How much vitamin D: 25µg/2000IU per 5ml serving
This vegan vitamin D3 is in a base of sunflower seed oil and natural orange oil to give it a pleasant taste. You can take it directly in the mouth or add to food or drinks. Much vitamin D on the market is derived from sheep's wool making it unsuitable for vegans. This one is derived from lichen. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so an oil base gives superior absorption.
Best gluten-free vitamin D supplement
Together Health Vitamin D3 capsules, £6.99 for a 30-day supply
How much vitamin D: 25µg/1000IU per capsule
Not all supplements are gluten-free (check individual packaging), but these ones reliably are. Vegan too, they contain bioactive vegan and plant-based vitamin D3 from sustainably harvested lichen in a base of coconut oil for improved absorption and are free from allergens and additives wheat and gluten.
Best easy to swallow vitamin D supplement
Myvitamins vitamin D3 soft gels, £8.49 for 30
How much vitamin D: 62.5µg /2480IU
These soft little pills are remarkably easy to swallow and more than cover your RI of vitamin D.
Best vitamin D sprays
, £15 for 15ml (30 day supply)
How much vitamin D: 75µg /3000IU per three sprays
Another great vitamin D3 choice for people who don’t like swallowing pills is a sublingual (under the tongue) spray. Not only does it negate the need to take capsules, but the absorption rate may be also up to 2.6 times higher than when taken in a capsule, says the brand.
BetterYou DLux 3000 Vitamin D Oral Spray, £7.95 for 15ml (100 day supply)
How much vitamin D: 75µg / 3000IU
One spritz this peppermint flavour spray straight under your tongue for a convenient way to take your daily hit of vitamin D3. It's suitable for during pregnancy and breastfeeding and for those on a vegetarian and diabetic diet. Retailer Victoriahealth.com has reported a recent surge in sales of this along with other immune supplements such as zinc, vitamin C, astragalus and a multi-greens powder called Life Drink by Terranova.
Best vitamin D supplements for children
How much vitamin D: 400IU per spray
Suitable from three years old, this is the kids' version of the vitamin D3 best-selling spray. Doctors advise against supplementing children with anything not specifically designed for children. There’s also a spray for children from six months old with an orange flavour.
Vitabiotics Wellkid Peppa Pig Vitamin D Strawberry Flavour, 30 gummies for £6.99
How much vitamin d: 400IU per gummy
Designed for children aged three to seven, these gummies provide the exact level of vitamin D as recommended by the UK Department of Health for young children - the strawberry flavour and Peppa Pi endorsement don't hurt either!
The doctor-approved vitamin D supplement
Allergy Research Group Vitamin D3 Complete, £53.17 for 60 capsules
How much vitamin D: 50 µg / 2000IU
In a recent Instagram post Dr Sophie Shotter an aesthetician who has returned to frontline NHS work during the Covid-19 pandemic, revealed this to be her D of choice as it also contains vitamins A and K2 - if you’ve been supplementing vitamin D for a long time, it can deplete your levels of vitamins A and K, so vitamin D3 complete contains those as well to keep you balanced. It’s sold out many places at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled for a restock on Amazon
Best vitamin D for menopause and mood
Lyma supplements, from £149 for 30-day supply
How much vitamin D: 50 µg / 2000IU
Rather on the pricey side, we know, but not only do they look chic, this super-supplement provides the body with v itamin D3 combined with K2, a crucial combinatio n for building calcium into the bones. Menopause causes a drop in bone density. It uses Vita Algae D3, a sustainable vegan source of D3 derived from algae (although the supplement itself contains non-vegan ingredients, although it is vegetarian). It's been recently reformulated with the addition of a saffron extract called affron, which according to the brand, has been shown in peer-reviewed research to act on the areas of the brain involved in developing mental resilience. It also contains the adaptogen ashwagandha, which helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol .
Best gummy vitamin D supplement
Healthspan Vitamin D Apple and Blackcurrant Gummies, £8.95 for 30 gummies
How much vitamin D: 25 µg /1000IU
For people who find taking vitamins a chore or have trouble swallowing pills, gummies are a great option - and make you want to keep up the daily habit. These are a tasty way to up your vitamin D3 levels and have no added sugar - there’s just 0.1g per gummy of naturally occurring sugars. You need to take one per day. Not recommended for children under five.
Best vitamin D supplement for pregnancy
Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Pregnancy, £34 for 90 capsules
How much vitamin D: 10μg / 400IU
On top of 400µg of folic acid and zinc, this food-state formula also contains vitamin D3 to help support the immune system and the development of baby's bones and provide energy. It's vegetarian, gluten-free and contains no artificial colours. The recommended dosage is three capsules per day.
Best drinkable vitamin D supplement
Holland and Barrett Vitamin D3 Lemon and Lime Flavour Effervescent, 20 tablets for £5.49
How much vitamin D: 25ug / 1000IU per tablet
If you prefer to drink your supplements we'd like to point you in the direction of this effervescent tablet - it has a zesty citrus flavour add a pep to your mornings.