Dr. Nils-Ola Holtze, a retired endocrine surgeon, is very worried about the fact that in Portugal - in spite of it being a generally sunny country – people have low levels of vitamin D, a situation that has been getting worse with the lockdown measures.

“Vitamin D is a vital pheromone that plays a major role in many of the body’s processes. Almost all cells have a Vitamin-D receptor, a small “antenna” where the vitamin can attach to perform its functions”, explains the doctor.

Vitamin D deficiency can be associated with many diseases, such as “High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, mellitus and development of blood clots. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with several autoimmune diseases such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis. And many more ailments are more common in people with vitamin D deficiency”, said Doctor Nils-Ola Holtze.

Although there are other sources of vitamin D, the “main source of Vitamin-D comes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays”, clarified the doctor. Twenty minutes of sun exposure, on the arms and legs, without a sunscreen might be enough. However, there are more sources of this hugely important vitamin, namely, oily fish, eggs, red meat and other sources.

According to the doctor: “In many countries Vitamin D is added to certain products like milk. However, there are no recommendations for this in Portugal. Children from 2 weeks to 1 year are recommended to take supplements here, but 31.7 percent do not take it for some reason”.

The main functions of vitamin D are to strengthen bones and teeth, prevent diabetes, improve the immune system, reduce inflammation in the body, improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles and prevent many diseases.

The importance of the benefits of vitamin D were discovered in the 20th Century. “In the 18th and 19th centuries, the world was plagued by a pandemic, Rickets, a disease that led to skeletal deformity in especially young children. In the early 20th century, it was discovered that the cause was a lack of vitamin D and treatment with sunlight and cod liver oil had a curative effect”.

Since them, the power of vitamin D in our health has been proved in many researches. However, the truth is that many people still having this deficiency – even in Portugal. Despite being a southern European country, people in Portugal still having problems caused by the lack of this vitamin, sometimes without knowing. “In Portugal, for example, 30-60 percent of adults have a deficiency, according to a study from 2017”, said the doctor. At this moment with the lockdown and the obligation of remote working, these levels are thought to be increasing.

Usually the more vulnerable group includes: “Dark-skinned people in northern latitudes, the overweight and the elderly”, the Doctor explained. All the restrictions that we have, like “not being able to go to the beach and constantly been urged to stay at home and to cover the last small sun-exposed part of our skin with a mask”, might reduce drastically the levels of vitamin D, said the doctor.

In Portugal there is no habit of taking vitamin D supplements, as it is a sunny country. However, it turns out that even before the pandemic, many people spent the day in closed spaces working, and end up not exposing themselves to the sun long enough for the skin to produce vitamin D.

If you are maybe wondering if you have a lack of vitamin D, well, to know this you’ll need to visit a doctor and ask for them to analyse your vitamin D levels, because the symptoms are many. Just a short list of possible symptoms include: slow growth in children, arching in the legs, enlargement of the extremities of the leg and arm bones, muscle spasms, muscle pains, fatigue, weakness, depression, and much more.

However, before taking supplements it is important to consult a doctor and check whether or not to start it and in what doses, to avoid over-supplementation which also has negative impacts. Increased urination, weakness, high blood pressure, thirst, itchy skin and nervousness are some of them.