Should We Be Taking Vitamin D Supplements During Lockdown?

With the nation staying indoors to save lives, many of us won't be getting much vitamin D from sunlight. Here's what you need to know.
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With lockdown stretching on into spring, and possibly even the summer months, Brits are being urged to consider taking daily vitamin D supplements.

The NHS has updated its guidance on vitamin D due to the coronavirus outbreak, based on recommendations from Public Health England (PHE). Usually, it’s only recommended we take vitamin D during winter due to the lack of sunlight.

Dr Alison Tedstone, the health body’s chief nutritionist, said: “With the nation staying in to save lives and protect the NHS, many people are spending more time indoors and may not get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight.”

To protect bone and muscle health, people should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, she said.

A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children. In adults it can cause bone pain, a result of a condition called osteomalacia. It’s thought around one in five adults and one in six children in the UK may have a profound vitamin D deficiency.

While there’s no sufficient evidence to support the recommendation of vitamin D for reducing the risk of Covid-19, public health experts agree that people should continue to take it for general health purposes if they aren’t getting outdoors as much as they usually would.

Where do we get vitamin D from?

In the spring and summer months, most of us can get enough vitamin D naturally. Our bodies generate it from direct sunlight on the skin when we’re outdoors and it’s also found in a small number of foods such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods (like cereal).

But obviously, with people spending longer periods indoors due to the UK lockdown, there’s a concern we aren’t getting enough sunlight to make sufficient levels of vitamin D. PHE and the NHS, therefore, recommend buying supplements throughout lockdown.

You can buy these at most pharmacies and supermarkets, however “do not buy more than you need,” says the NHS. Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements.

How much vitamin D should you have?

Breastfed babies (from birth to one year of age) should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D, the Department of Health and Social Care recommends.

Formula-fed babies should not be given a vitamin D supplement until they’re having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.

Children aged one to four years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Everyone else (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, particularly if they aren’t getting outdoors as much.

The public is warned against taking more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day, however, as this may be harmful.