For years we have been saying that the outdated recommendation that Brits could get all the Vitamin D they need from sunlight and food was putting people's health at risk. The statistics backed up our concerns too, cases of rickets (Vitamin D deficiency) are on the rise, especially amongst children and the further North you go the worse the picture gets. The bottom line is that Vitamin D isn't found in enough foods that we eat regularly to meet our needs, and the UK is just too far North to allow most of us to make enough Vitamin D in our skin via sunlight.
An advisory body set up by the UK government said the bleak British weather is stopping much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight - and natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels. The independent Scientific Advisory Body on Nutrition (SACN) made the recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and a range of health problems, including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Current government advice is that at-risk groups, including pregnant women, children up to the age of five, adults over 65, and people with darker skin as well those who do not expose their skin to sunlight, should take a daily vitamin D supplement. However, if SACN's draft recommendations are adopted it could lead to new guidance affecting the whole population?
Dr Adrian Martineau, an expert on vitamin D's effect on health at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the new advice marked a "sea change" in thinking. He said: "Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn't need to have any dietary or supplementary intake. "The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude - you'll get more UVB in Brighton than in John O'Groats - and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin."SACN was right to say that we can't rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That's a major and important change. It's a big step forward that this is now officially recognised."
We already recommended some groups should supplement with Vitamin D, pregnant women, children under five and the over 65s and people with darker skin are all advised to take a daily vitamin D supplement. However, existing schemes like the Healthy Start Vitamin Scheme providing free vitamin drops for children from low income families have desperately disappointing uptake records. Yet, we know Vitamin D can make a real difference to health.
Dr Helga Rhein, an Edinburgh GP who also runs the campaign group Scots need Vitamin D, said: "I'm happy that it is now 'official' that for all of us living in the UK it is recommended to take vitamin D supplements. Dr Rhein said she believed the Scottish Government should encourage GPs to prescribe a daily dose of at least 2,000IU or 3,000IU of vitamin D to all patients. She said: "For several years our GP practice has been prescribing vitamin D supplements to all our patients in adequate doses. We have seen good results, especially in cancer survival, and in reducing colds and depression.
So now we have the recommendation from health professionals, from Government and from the scientists what do we need?
Well, it seems we need to raise awareness and action: -
- We need everyone to become aware of Vitamin D
- We need to become aware that you can get Vitamin D from a few foods and can make vitamin D in your skin via sunlight
- We need to become aware that despite none of us in the UK are likely to be getting enough vitamin D
- Lastly, we need to become aware that the only way to be sure of avoiding rickets in children is to supplement their daily diet with vitamin D
- For adults to get their requirements of vitamin D they also need to take a daily supplement of vitamin D.
This is such a simple way to prevent nutritional deficiency across the whole UK population. The evidence is conclusive and the recommendation is clear- vitamin D supplementation can save lives and needless misery caused by crippling conditions like rickets.