Dr Hilary Jones explains importance of vitamin A and D
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Vitamins and minerals are considered to be vital nutrients for keeping the human body in good working order, but as seasons change, certain vitamins can be more impactful in giving us a better boost. People can source a lot of these through foods – and of course, supplements, so it can be helpful to know which ones to pay extra attention to over the winter months. Express.co.uk spoke to experts to find out.
Vitamins fall into two groups: water-soluble and fat-soluble, and depending on the group, more or less consumption is required.
Fat-soluble vitamins including the likes of vitamins A, D, E and K, can be stored in the liver and fatty tissues, which means there could be a risk of a build-up if over-consumed.
Water-soluble vitamins on the other hand, like vitamin C or the eight B vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate and B12 and 7, can be easily absorbed in body tissue and metabolised faster than fat-soluble vitamins.
This makes it essential for people to seek tailored advice when incorporating new vitamin supplements into their diets, as some can benefit from higher or lower dosages.
However, as winter edges closer, there are a few specific vitamins to focus on more fully, as they can work wonders for health and fitness over the colder months.
Often dubbed the “sunny vitamin”, vitamin D is produced by the body in response to sun exposure, making it a vital vitamin to look out for over the colder, darker months when intake can be largely reduced.
Melissa Snover, registered nutritionist and CEO of Nourished, told Express.co.uk said: “As you’ll know, if you live in the UK, the long winter months can see us going days, or even weeks, without appropriate sunlight exposure so picking up the slack with supplementation can be incredibly valuable – and is also recommended by NHS England.”
It’s described as a vital vitamin to consume because, according to Lisa Scheepers, nutritionist at Fresh Fitness Food, “it promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from our diets, making it essential for maintaining bone and muscle health.
“Vitamin D also contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system and our inflammatory response mechanisms”.
Ms Snover weighed in: “Vitamin D’s power in immunity comes through helping to increase T-cell count, which is responsible for targeting and destroying virus-infected cells.
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“This increased T-cell count will leave your body in a better position to fend off winter bugs, which is why we include it as one of the ingredients in our immunity-boosting Inner Defence Stack.”
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with a number of different health problems.
Ms Scheepers said: “This includes a higher risk of poor musculoskeletal health, such as rickets, osteomalacia, falls and poor muscle strength.
“Signs of a vitamin D deficiency are feeling fatigued, bone pain, muscle weakness, aches, cramps, or anxiety and depression.”
Aside from sunlight, vitamin D can be found in a small number of foods including oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods, such as cereals.
However, those who need an additional supplement boost may find a supplement helpful and the Government recommends a dosage of at least 400 IUD of vitamin D.
Research has shown that vitamin B12 can bear a significant impact on increased energy levels and mood boosts.
Ms Snover said: “This is because it plays a vital role in serotonin production, otherwise known as the happy hormone. If you’re someone who struggles with lethargy in the winter months – the dark evenings and cold weather do us no favours – this should be a staple in your vitamin routine.”
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in some meat, fish and dairy products like cheese and milk.
However, Ms Snover continued: “A lot of us cannot absorb it properly. And vegans, because they are not consuming those products, are more susceptible to being deficient.
“For this reason, supplementation is a great idea as it can bypass that and ensure you are digesting appropriate levels to make an impact.”
Another vitamin essential to beating winter colds is Vitamin A, which helps boost the production and growth of immune cells.
Public health nutritionist, Doctor Emma Derbyshire from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) told Express.co.uk: “Low intakes can increase the risk of pathogens invading the eye and the respiratory tract.
“One in ten toddlers and primary schoolchildren don’t get the recommended amount of vitamin A. All children under five should be given a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D, according to the Government.”
Otherwise, vitamin A can be found in a number of foods, such as carrots, leafy green vegetables, fish oils, and dairy products, to name a few.
With immunity in mind, zinc is another cornerstone vitamin, according to Ms Snover, for anyone looking to help shield themselves from winter bugs.
She explained: “This incredible nutrient helps our body to create new cells and enzymes, process carbohydrates, fat and protein in food, and also increases the speed of healing muscles and wounds.
“As an added benefit, it’s also needed for your sense of taste because one of the enzymes crucial for these senses depends on zinc. So, if you’re looking to enjoy your Christmas dinner and treats even more, zinc can help with that.”
Zinc occurs naturally in foods like meat, dairy products, legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils and beans, and whole grains like quinoa, oats, and rice to name a few.
Vitamin C is another nutrient typically suggested to provide people with a good winter boost.
Expert nutritionist Matt Jones BSc told Express.co.uk: “Vitamin C is notorious for its important work with immune health. Vitamin C provides antioxidant protection and can stimulate immune cells into action.
“Found naturally in numerous fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, bell peppers, kiwi, orange and berries, incorporating as many of these foods into your daily diet during winter is incredibly beneficial.
“Nutrition professionals will often encourage patients to eat a rainbow of colourful fruit, vegetables and healthy sources of fat with each meal, to maximise micronutrient and phytonutrient intake, including vitamin C, preventing deficiencies.”
Doctor Derbyshire said: “Good nutrition is essential for optimal autumn and winter immunity but, as far as our diets are concerned, key pieces of the puzzle are missing.
“Certain vitamins – A and C – from fruit and vegetables – and iron from red meat, beans and green veg, are lower than ideal for some age groups, while most adults don’t take a vitamin D supplement as recommended.”
To help bridge the gaps, Doctor Derbyshire suggests opting for a multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement, which can include all of the vital nutrients, A, C and D, as well as iron and zinc.
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