Vitamin D, often dubbed the sunshine vitamin because we produce it in response to exposure to sunlight, is one of those vitamins that has been tentatively linked to lots of things. Vitamin D deficiency has been suggested to have a role in conditions such as osteoporosis, depression, Alzheimer Disease and cancer, but there is very little evidence to back this up. I became concerned about my Vitamin D levels when I heard that deficiency may be linked to multiple sclerosis, which has a high incidence in Scotland.
I've no reason to suppose that I get as much Vitamin D naturally as I should. Living in Scotland, there's rarely the chance to be out in the midday sunny conditions that are important for the production of Vitamin D. The foods that contain Vitamin D are mostly things I don't eat - being vegetarian, I'm not going to get this vitamin from things like oily fish or liver, and although eggs and certain mushrooms also contain Vitamin D, I coincidentally don't like those things. Some foods (such as breakfast cereals) are fortified with Vitamin D among other things, but as a fussy Scottish vegetarian I decided supplements were the way to go.
These Holland and Barrett Vitamin D3 tablets are available in two strengths (25 and 10 micrograms) and each is available in a bottle of 100 or 250 tablets. The bottle shown in the picture contains 100 tablets of 25 micrograms, and this retails at just over 8GBP. Current NHS advice is not to exceed 25 micrograms per day.
I've been buying these tablets for a while now, and for some curious reason the size of them varies from time to time. For a while they were absolutely tiny, but are now larger, although they are still small enough to be very easy to swallow - they are only a fraction of the size of a painkiller. The tablets are white and start to dissolve quickly in your mouth, but they have no discernible taste and I sometimes just let them dissolve.
Vitamins are tricky to review because unless you're using them for some specific health improvement, it's hard to say exactly what benefit you're getting. If you're using them in a preventative way like I do, then it's 'no news is good news'. I find these easy to take, relatively inexpensive and they may have a role in stopping me from developing ill-health. Until more concrete evidence comes in about the role of this vitamin in the many illnesses it has been connected with, my choice is to make sure I get a decent daily dosage of Vitamin D. These tablets are suitable for vegetarians.
As a nutritionist, Vitamin D is one of those essentials, in my opinion. Although there are no RDI's (Recommended Daily Intakes) for the population at whole, the fact that we live in the northern hemisphere means that we have poor access to sunlight (the main source of Vit D). Dietary sources are few and far between (herring, mackerel, egg yolk) and I like to take 10ug each day (which is that recommended for pregnant and lactating women), but especially in the winter. The packaging refers to the EU RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of which this 10ug tablets meet 200%.
H&B's Vitamin D3 tablets come in a translucent yellow bottle with a bright yellow lid. The first thing I noticed before even taking it to the till was how much packaging wastage there was. The tablets are tiny and don't even fill a quarter of the bottle - even 100 of them!
Each tablet is ~5mm diameter, which is pretty small! The lid has a flip top unlike other H&B supplements so my theory is that this is to help with dispensing. It's really easy to open and close although I'm not sure how it would fare in a handbag / travelling as mine sit on the kitchen worktop. Even with the flip lid, however, I find that the only reliable way to get the daily dose out is by unscrewing the lovingly designed flip top and sticking my finger in. Using the flip top method usually ends up with a good few in my hand / on the aforementioned worktop which then have to be picked back up (tricky when they are tiny!) and stuck back in the bottle.
I bought these when H&B were doing their penny sale, which makes them very good value. However, they do need to address the size of the packaging, which is quite wasteful. In addition, the size of the tablet needs addressed as this is something which would prove to be a real pain in the neck for someone with poor mobility of the hands.
I will buy again when H&B has an offer on.
I am reviewing a newer form of Holland & Barrett Sunvite Vitamin D3. The new tablet size is about a third smaller than the old one, but as they replace the old H&B Vitamin D3 I will review them here.
After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism but not improving despite thyroxine therapy, I went through every test imaginable to find out why - MRI, CT, ultrasound, and blood tests galore - but finally my endocrinologist said there was no reason for my persistent fatigue, but that certain vitamins supplements might help. This was a pretty last-ditch attempt, but I went with it anyway. Vitamin D3 was one of the vitamin supplements he suggested.
Most people will know that vitamin D is synthesised from sun exposure, and that it helps the body to absorb calcium, hence the product name 'Sunvite'.
Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for rickets. It is also responsible for other bone-softening diseases including osteoperosis. Low levels are also linked with cancer, multiple schlerosis, problems during pregnancy and general mortality. I don't have these illnesses (especially not the last one), but as I don't get out much due to my condition, I don't get the chance to absorb vitamin D from the sun as most adults would.
It is also something to consider for vegetarians and vegans (vitamin D can also be found in fish and meat, as well as fortified milk), people who cover themselves fully when outside for religious, health or fashion reasons, and those of African or Caribbean descent (as melanin in the skin can interfere with proper natural production of vitamin D). Plus, anyone living in the UK should consider taking vitamin D supplements, simply because the weather is often not conductive for the short but frequent sun exposure needed to synthesise vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D is safe for anyone to take, from children and pregnant or breastfeeding women to the elderly. Obviously it is paramount you contact your doctor beforehand to get the correct dosage, as it is possible to overdose, and that it may clash with other medications.
So what is vitamin D? There are two types of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is approximately closer to the naturally occuring synthesisation of vitamin D due to sunshine striking bare skin (Cholecalciferol); Vitamin D2 is a synthetic form of vitamin D which is usually used to fortify foods (Ergocalciferol). Vitamin D2 metabolises poorly in the body and does not have a long shelf-life. Vitamin D3 is almost twice as potent as D2 and metabolises upto 500 times quicker. Sometimes you will find tales of D2 prescription medication (often on American websites) but that isn't really applicable, as D2 is a poor choice next to D3. Vitamin D3 is also hardly ever given on prescription here in the UK either, unless you have osteopersosis or (God forbid) rickets.
That's where these supplements come in. Holland & Barrett Vitamin D3 contain 25 'ug' or 1,000 IU (500% of the RDA of Vitamin D) in a small pill form. The pill is white, round and around 10 mm in diameter (it used to be 25mm). The new smaller pills are easier to swallow, but they are also easier to lose. When I dispense them from the bottle into my pill-box, I often lose a few on the floor as they are so small and hyperactive (and I am clumsy).
The bottle the pills come in is translucent yellow plastic with a flip-lid (a bit like a hundreds and thousands dispenser). As the bottle comes with no leaflet, information is given on the label. The yellow design is obviously evocative of sunshine.
The bottles come in variations of 100 or 250 pills, at strengths from 10 micrograms (ug) to 25 micrograms (ug). 25 ug is the strongest form available. The dosage is one a day, with a meal. I take mine with breakfast. The pill is tasteless and doesn't dissolve easily in the mouth or leave an aftertaste (which I am grateful for).
Ingredients in the supplements are as follows:
Bulking Agents (Dicalcium Phosphate, Microcrystalline Cellulose), Anti-Caking Agents (Magnesium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide), Starch, Sucrose, Vitamin E (as dl-Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin D3, Tricalcium Phosphate, Emulsifier (Acacia Gum).
Holland & Barrett guarantee these products are certified free of:
- No Artificial Colours, Flavours or Sweeteners.
- No Preservatives.
- No added Salt. No Milk, No Corn, No Lactose, No Gluten, No Wheat, No Yeast, No Fish, No Porcine, No Soya.
As this product could be recommended for a vegetarians and vegan lifestyle, is it friendly towards them? Yes and no. Industrial production of Cholecalciferol is produced via ultraviolet irradiation of lanolin in sheep's wool. Cholesterol is extracted from wool grease and wax wool alcohol from cleaned wool after shearing and then irradiated in a four-step process to create the basic molecule that forms Cholecalciferol. Thus, this product is obviously not suitable for vegans, as it uses animal by-products. Luckily for them, D3 is also industrially produced from lichen, such as Vitashine Vitamin D3, suitable for both vegetarians AND vegans for around the same price. Unfortunately, if you are a vegan, you will not find that product in Holland & Barrett and you will have to buy it online.
OK, so we know what's in it and what's not in it, but what happens when it's in you?
Within Europe, manufacturers of Vitamin D supplements or food enriched with vitamin D are allowed to state that their product supports:
- Normal function of the immune system;
- Normal inflammatory response;
- Normal muscle function;
- Reduced risk of falling in people over age 60.
So that's the good, now the bad... It is possible to overdose on Vitamin D3. This leads to over-absorption of calcium that harms the kidneys (presumably through calcium deposits / kidney stones). It is advised not to take more than 1 pill a day, but even so, you'd need to take over 10,000 IU over a long period of time to feel the effects of overdose. Obviously this is not recommended...
Holland & Barrett sell this product at £8.05 for 100 tablets and £18.15 for 250 pills. They are often included in the 'penny sale' promotion, where we often get 2 bottles (200 pills) for £8.06. A bottle of 100 pills would last 1 person taking 1 pill a day just over 3 months and 3 weeks.
Both my father and I take the tablets daily. Unlike the other vitamins recommended by my endocrinologist, I have not seen any obvious differences. However, neither of us have had any broken bones. Neither of us have had the flu, either, but we've both had colds. It is difficult to say whether the vitamin has worked or not, but we are both continuing to take it. It is also a lot safer than sunbeds or even going out in the sunshine without SPF lotion on (if that sunshine situation does indeed occur). The pills are not exactly a cool drink outside in the sunshine, but it's better than nothing.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins which are essential in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. It is often called the "sunshine vitamin" because the body can create vitamin D through sun exposure. For years its role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth has been known, but more and more studies are showing that it also plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system. In addition, studies are showing that low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of developing diabetes, muscle and bone pain, a number of cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia. There also appear to be links between vitamin D and allergies and asthma. In other words, Vitamin D is extremely important to many aspects of your overall health.
Why take a supplement?
Most doctors still say that the best way to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun. However, this isn't always easy or even possible. Many factors affect your body's ability to produce vitamin D. Two of the biggest factors here in the UK are season and latitude. If you live above 40 degrees north latitude (London is 51 degrees north) you won't make much, if any, vitamin D in the winter (actually from October to April here in the UK). And our summers aren't always warm enough for the short but frequent spells of unprotected sun exposure necessary just to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. It is even harder for the elderly and people with darker skin to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure. There are a few foods, such as salmon, that contain vitamin D but not in great quantities. To make matters worse, once you are deficient, it is almost impossible to return to healthy levels without supplementation.
The current recommended daily amount of vitamin D across Europe is 200 iu. The NHS currently recommends supplementation for pregnant and breastfeeding women, all children from 6 months to 5 years, people aged 65 and over, people with darker skin, and those with limited sun exposure (including people who cover their skin for cultural reasons and individuals who are housebound for long periods of time).
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D in the USA is 600 iu (800 iu for people 70 and over). Even then many vitamin D researchers are convinced the government's recommendations for adequate vitamin D intake are far below what your body really needs. The current recommendations are enough to prevent rickets and provide decent bone health, but they do not appear to be sufficient to maintain a healthy immune system. Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD, who heads the Vitamin D, Skin, and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine says that studies show that you need an optimal dose of 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day to achieve blood levels of vitamin D that can protect you against chronic diseases.
Why am I personally taking a vitamin D supplement? My mum (who lives in Texas where the body can produce vitamin D year round) was tested to be vitamin D deficient. As she learned more and more about the importance of vitamin D she encouraged me to take a supplement since it was almost certain I wasn't getting enough vitamin D here in the UK (it was unlikely I was getting the recommended 200 iu per day, let alone the higher levels recommended by many experts).
It is impossible to overdose on vitamin D from sun exposure, but it is generally recommended that people taking more than 2000 iu per day of vitamin D supplements have their blood levels monitored. Too much vitamin D can lead to a build up of calcium in the blood and kidney problems. However, to reach this level of toxicity you would need to take 50,000 iu per day for several months.
***Holland & Barrett Sunvite Vitamin D3 tablets***
I bought a bottle of Holland & Barrett Sunvite Vitamin D3 10 Î¼g (400 iu) tablets without doing much research. The tablets are discus shaped with a 1cm diameter and about 3mm height. I didn't find them too hard to swallow, but on a few occasions they didn't go down the first try (likely because I find the discus shape slightly harder to swallow than a capsule- but I'm really not very good at swallowing pills).
I won't list all the ingredients here, but the full list can be found on the Holland & Barrett website. However, I will point out these tablets contain gelatine so are not suitable for vegetarians. They also contain corn oil and soya. They do not contain any milk or wheat.
I took the recommended 1-2 tablets every day over a period of several months. I can't say I noticed any significant difference, but I'm reluctant to dam them since it can be hard to see the effects of this sort of thing without a blood test. However, I decided to switch to a different brand because I don't always absorb vitamins very well and often find different brands work better than others. I opted for Pure Encapsulation 1000 iu capsules. Shortly after taking the Pure Encapsulation Vitamin D, I started to notice a difference. Previously I would get painful skin (like a sunburn without the heat) several times a week. Now I only get the pain once or twice a month. I am reasonably confident this is down to the vitamin d, but the improvements didn't come while I was taking the Holland & Barrett Sunvite version, so I'm not convinced these tablets are all that absorbable, at least for me.
That said, they are fairly inexpensive at 100 for £3.29 (and currently on offer, buy one get another for 1p). They are also available in 25 Î¼g (1000 iu) at £7.99 for 100 (also currently on offer, buy one get another for 1p).
I strongly believe everyone should at least consider taking a vitamin D supplement and these are reasonably priced, however, the amount of unnecessary additives and the lack of personal results leads me to conclude these are average, at best. I found Pure Encapsulations to offer better results (but they cost more).