“Melanin is normally black people’s best ally, acting as a natural sunscreen…protecting us from premature aging. However, that same ability to protect us from the sun also reduces our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D.
In the summer, it is easy for most people to get enough vitamin D from the sun. But during the cold and dark winter months, getting vitamin D is much harder, especially for those with darker skin such as people of African, African-Caribbean or south Asian origin.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by the skin in response to direct sunlight, and it can also be found in food. It plays an essential role in the body regulating our calcium level, bone structure, and immune system. Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with many health issues such as bone deformities, infections especially of the respiratory tract like colds, bronchitis and pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression etc.
Recent studies have shown that people with low levels suffered a more severe form of COVID-19 and had an increased mortality rate from the disease (up to 20x higher) compared to people with normal levels of Vitamin D. This could be one of the many reasons why COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background, especially when living in countries with colder weather and limited sunshine like the UK.
Why are black people more prone to Vitamin D deficiency?
People with dark skins have more melanin, the pigment responsible for skin colour. Melanin is normally black people’s best ally, acting as a natural sunscreen, shielding our skins from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and as result maintaining our skin elasticity for longer, protecting us from premature aging (black don’t crack is a legitimate thing!) and reducing chances of skin cancer.
However, that same ability to protect us from the sun also reduces our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. This means that people with dark skin will need to spend more time in the sun to produce the same amount as people with lighter skin. This isn’t too much of an issue during summer sunny days but can become quite problematic during winter when we have very little sunshine and stay indoors more often, let alone during a nationwide lockdown.
What can we do to increase our Vitamin D level?
- Get active outside
Getting some sunlight is one of the best ways, even just a partial amount. Although, this might be harder this winter with the current restrictions, the government still allows some time for outdoor exercise in a safe way. So get active, go for a short walk or run, preferably between 11 am and 3 pm when we have the most sunlight. This will not just be good for your vitamin D level, but also for your mental and physical health overall. Before going outside, please do check the most recent government guidelines, follow their recommendations and, where possible, avoid crowded spaces to keep yourself and others safe.
- Eat Vitamin D rich food
Some foods have naturally high levels of vitamin D such as mushrooms, eggs, oily fish (like salmon, sardines) etc. Fat spreads, breakfast cereals, yoghurts, wheat flour etc. can also be a great source of this precious vitamin. Keep a balanced, healthy diet and educate yourself on nutrition, to find foods that are appropriate for your dietary requirements and cultural preferences.
- Take some Cod Liver Oil daily
Cod liver oil is a great source of vitamin D, and other important nutrients including vitamins A and omega3 fatty acids. A 5ml dose of cod liver oil daily is often recommended. However, the amount of vitamin D may vary between products. A word of caution for pregnant women and people with medical conditions, do speak to a doctor before taking cod liver oil as it may be more harmful than useful in your condition.
- Consider taking supplements
The scientific advisory committee on nutrition recommends a small daily dose of vitamin D for people living in the UK, especially during winter. Whilst a 10 micrograms dose may be enough for Caucasians and people with lighter skins, people with dark skin, may need slightly more. In any case, you should talk to your doctor for their advice especially if you consider taking a higher dose than the recommended amount.
If you enjoyed reading this you may also be interested in reading, ‘Black Women Are x5 More Likely To Die In Childbirth: Why & What Can We Do About It. ‘