Do you need to take Vitamin D Supplements?

Do you need to take Vitamin D Supplements?What with the poor British summer and the cost of travelling abroad spiralling, many UK residents have not had their quota of sunshine this year. This means a lack of what is called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – vitamin D.

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and teeth, as it is essential for the absorption of calcium. Many people however, who have indoor jobs, poor diets or cover their bodies for religious reasons, are deficient in the vitamin. In fact, a five-year review revealed that as many as one in five people are deficient in the vitamin.

However, according to the Public Health England (PHE), the whole of the UK should increase their intake of vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter. This applies in particular to children up to the age of four and those with darker skin.

Dr Louis Levy, the head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said: “A healthy balanced diet and short bursts of sunshine will mean most people get all the vitamin D they need in spring and summer.

“However, everyone will need to consider taking a supplement in the autumn and winter if you don’t eat enough foods that contain vitamin D or are fortified with it.

“And those who don’t get out in the sun or always cover their skin when they do should take a vitamin D supplement throughout the year.”

Now the PHE is advising adults to take supplements that contain 10 micrograms of vitamin D on a daily basis. Getting all your vitamin D from food is difficult, as it is only found in fish and a few other products, and the average amount consumed from food is around 3 micrograms.

Foods that contain Vitamin D

  • oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • red meat
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • fortified foods such as margarines and spreads and some breakfast cereals

It was thought that people get the main requirements of their vitamin D quotas during the summer, but research has suggested this might not be the case.

Prof Hilary Power, of Sheffield University’s Department for Oncology and Metabolism, who chaired the SCAN review, said:

“Until now it has been assumed that sunlight would provide the vitamin D needed by most of the population all the year round. We now know this is not true because about one in five people in the UK have a low blood level of vitamin D.

“There are very few foods that contain a good source of vitamin D so it is very important to ensure we include a variety of oily fish (such as tuna, salmon and sardines), eggs and certain fortified breakfast cereals in our diets.

Prof POwer added that if everyone followed the recommendations it could have a huge impact on public health.

“If the recommendations are followed this should reduce the risk of bone disease in the UK population.”

Not getting enough vitamin D could see a rise in childhood rickets, a condition not seen since the war.

Depression in women has also been linked to a lack of the vitamin, as has diabetes and some forms of cancer.

It was thought that all we needed was a balanced diet and a healthy attitude to the sun, but this does not appear to be true with vitamin D.

Part of the problem is that many people now avoid exposure to the sun, have poor diets and sit indoors playing computer games of watching TV.

Dr Brewer explains: “[We can only make vitamin D] when the UV index is greater than 3 which, in the UK, is achieved on some days during spring and summer. Today [SUBS: Tuesday], for example, the UV index is only above 3 for around an hour at 2pm.”

Northern latitude countries, such as Finland, have a national policy of supplementing vitamin D and putting into foods.

How much Vitamin D do I need?

Children from the age of one year and adults require 10 micrograms (10mcg) of vitamin D a day.

This also applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women and groups who may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency (ethnic with darker skin, night workers etc.).

How to boost your levels of Vitamin D

Try and get at least 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to the sun every day to your arms, face, hands or back, at least two or three times a week. This is without the use of sunscreen. You do not need any longer.

Eat foods that contain vitamin D on a regular basis.

Take a supplement with a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) stamp.

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