How Do I Check My Vitamin D Levels?
Sufficient vitamin D is crucial for our health, however, around 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children in the UK are deficient in vitamin D, which can have potentially serious consequences.
Although we can absorb some vitamin D from our foods, our bodies are actually responsible for producing most of our vitamin D, so making sure we have enough can be difficult.
Thankfully, you can visit your doctor for a blood test to check your vitamin D levels, or perform a finger prick test with an at-home vitamin D test and send it away to a lab to get your results without having to wait around for a doctor’s appointment. Let’s get into the details of when, why and how you should take a vitamin D test.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency so you can know when you should take a blood test to check your vitamin D levels and make the right lifestyle changes to increase your levels, or visit a doctor if the symptoms persist. Many of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency overlap with other illnesses, so it’s good to have a quick and painless vitamin D blood test to rule that out before your doctor investigates other possibilities.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Low mood
- Weak muscles
- Regular illness
- Fragile or brittle bones
Vitamin D is an essential component of our body's makeup as it regulates the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body. Calcium is integral for healthy bone development in children and maintenance in adults, so sufficient vitamin D is crucial for our physical health.
Despite its importance, it can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D from diet alone, and with the UK’s long and often dark winters, many Brits risk becoming vitamin D deficient from September to March if they don’t take vitamin D supplements.
What to Do if You Suspect You Have Low Vitamin D Levels
If you experience any symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, you should take a blood test to measure your vitamin D levels and determine if this is the true cause of your symptoms. You can do this by making an appointment with your GP, taking an at-home test, or in serious cases, attending a walk-in centre.
Some people are more at risk of being vitamin D deficient than others, including:
- People who are unable to leave the house to get exposure to sunlight
- People who cover themselves from the sunlight due to religious or cultural reasons
- People with darker skin pigmentation
- Babies being breastfed
- Vegans and vegetarians
Our bodies produce most of our vitamin D from exposing our skin to sunlight, so people who don’t get enough sun exposure can suffer from a lack of vitamin D, including babies who are covered from direct sunlight due to their sensitive skin. You should still wear sunscreen and avoid spending long amounts of time in the sun during the hottest parts of the day to protect yourself from burning and increasing your chances of skin cancer.
People with dark skin should also be conscious of their vitamin D levels as the more skin pigment you have, the more difficult it is for your skin to absorb sunlight and produce vitamin D. While sunlight is the main factor we need to produce vitamin D, we do also supply our bodies with vitamin D through specific foodstuffs, including red meats, oily fish and dairy products, so people who do not consume these food groups may need to safely increase their sun exposure or take supplements.
At-Home Vitamin D Tests
Getting a timely doctor’s appointment in the UK is easier said than done, so in some cases, you can skip the doctor and test yourself, like with vitamin D tests. You just have to buy your test online, have it shipped to your door with secure NFC tracking, take the test and ship it back and receive your results within 24 hours to find out your vitamin D levels. The test itself is a simple finger-prick test, so you put the lancet to your finger and collect blood in the plastic vial ready for the laboratory to test and send you results either via secure email, or visible on the company’s app.
At-home vitamin D tests will include an information leaflet on how to take the test, send your sample and receive your results, as well as some information on how to interpret your results. So, if your results indicate your vitamin D levels are drastically under the recommended levels, you should then ask your doctor for advice on healthy ways to change your lifestyle and increase your vitamin D levels.
It is possible to have too much vitamin D, although this is most likely from taking too many vitamin D supplements, so if your vitamin D levels are too high, you should cut down on your vitamin D supplements, or visit your doctor for further advice.
If you have chronic vitamin D deficiency and need to keep track of your levels, at-home vitamin D tests are the best tool for monitoring your levels without needing to wait for doctor’s appointments and let you take control of your health.
Increasing Vitamin D Levels
Since our bodies produce most of the vitamin D we need, it can be a little complicated for some people who already have balanced diets and spend some time outdoors to increase their vitamin D levels. However, if you have taken a test and your vitamin D levels are low, there are some ways of increasing your vitamin D levels.
The best way to raise your vitamin D levels is by absorbing sunlight on your skin so your body can produce vitamin D. However, overexposing your skin to sunlight, especially at midday when the sun is at its hottest, can burn your skin and lead to skin cancer. So the best way to get your vitamin D from the sun is by limiting your sun exposure to before 11 am and after 3 pm during summer, both in the UK and abroad, and using sunscreen with 30 SPF.
Some people cannot expose their skin to direct sunlight due to cultural or religious traditions as well as other ailments, in which case, the best way to increase your vitamin D intake is through your diet.
If you eat a standard balanced diet, you should already be getting sufficient vitamin D from your food, however, as most of our vitamin D intake comes from oily fish, red meat and dairy products, vegans and vegetarians can suffer from vitamin D deficiency more easily. That’s why some breakfast cereals, fruit juices and butter-like spreads are fortified (have vitamins and minerals added) to ensure people receive a healthy amount of vitamins in their diets.
To increase your vitamin D levels naturally, you can start eating more oily fish such as sardines, as well as fortified cereals.
Since many adults and children in the UK have vitamin D deficiency, particularly during winter months, the UK government advise taking vitamin D supplements over winter to prevent deficiency. If you’re able to get outside in the summer and safely uncover your skin to absorb some vitamin D, this is often sufficient, however, if you’re immobile, housebound or cover your skin, you can take vitamin D supplements to make sure your levels are ok.
Everyone over the age of 1 should have 10 micrograms (μg) of vitamin D per day, so if you can’t get this from the sunlight during summer, or from your diet during winter, or your blood test results show a lack of vitamin D, you should take a vitamin D supplement.