Everyone should take a vitamin D supplement
5 August 2015 | Editor
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Should everyone take a vitamin D pill? The answer is officially "Yes"
At last, widespread deficiency in the sun-starved British population is being addressed by new government guidelines
A balanced diet, rich in a wide range of fruit and vegetables will, according to the experts, provide us with all the vitamins and minerals we need to ensure the body’s functioning. Except, we learn now, when it comes to vitamin D.
Draft government guidelines regarding the ‘‘sunshine’’ vitamin - so-called because it is manufactured in the skin during exposure to UV light - are set to turn the ‘‘good diet is all you need" consensus on its head with a recommendation that we are not getting enough vitamin D, and taking a vitamin D supplement to redress the situation may be the solution. A combination of a northern latitude and bleak weather means that millions of us are deficient as dietary sources alone are not enough to keep levels in a healthy range.
Oliver Gillie, a scientist has championed the case for universal supplementation for years and says the advice comes not a moment too soon.
“Everybody knows that we live a far more indoor lifestyle than even our parents did. People sit inside watching television or on computers for hours every day.
“What’s more, a lot of people actively avoid the sun because dermatologists have been telling them it causes skin cancer. Obviously, you have to be careful to avoid burning but many people fail to realise that sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D and therefore crucial to health.”
According to the report by Scientific Advisory Body on Nutrition (SACN) which drafted the guidelines, our bodies are suffering when it comes to vitamin D, which is needed for healthy bones and strong teeth but also plays a role in numerous biochemical processes in the body. There is growing evidence that the vitamin - or lack of it - is linked to a number of diseases from musculoskeletal problems to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Professor Hilary Powers, chair of the SACN working group on Vitamin D says: “Across Europe, populations generally take on less vitamin D than country-estimates of requirements. However, there is very little in place in terms of public health strategies to address this problem.” Upping the recommended amount of vitamin D people should be consuming a day would be a ‘‘precautionary measure,’’ she added.
However, it would represent a major change in policy in a nation where public health advice generally counsels against mass supplementation (currently, folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy is recommended, flouride is added to water in some areas to protect against tooth decay and since 1998, wheat flour has been fortified with vitamin B1 and other nutrients).
The Government currently recommends that only pregnant women, children up to the age of five, those over 65 and people with darker skin as well as those who do not, for whatever reason, expose their skin to sunlight on regular basis, should take regular vitamin D supplements. However, data gathered by Public Health England says one in five people have low levels of vitamin D, and around one in six children – that’s an estimated 10 million people across England.
“Lack of vitamin D…reduces bone mineralisation.’’ according to medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. ‘‘This can lead to the deficiency diseases of rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults. Other conditions that have been linked with a lack of vitamin D include constipation, muscle weakness, increased susceptibility to infections, poor growth, irritability and bone pain.”
We obtain vitamin D primarily through the skin’s exposure to UVB rays in sunlight– but also, to a much smaller extent, through food.
Dr Brewer explains: “[We can only make vitamin D] when the UV index is greater than 3 which, in the UK, is achieved ONLY on some days during spring and summer. Today [a day in August], for example, the UV index is only above 3 for around an hour at 2pm.”
That’s a pretty small window. Other northern latitude countries such as Finland have a national policy of vitamin D supplementation and food fortification. In Denmark, Nordic Nutrition recommendations for vitamin D were recently upped from 7.5mcg (300 International Units) to 10mcg (400 IU) per day. In the UK, the recommended daily amount (RDA) is just 5mcg (200 IU) per day, although up to 25mcg (1000 units) is advised during the winter months.
Oliver Gillie believes we could go further: “I’d like the government to tell us to take 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day. The vast majority of the population who live indoors needs to take a supplement - especially those who live in Scotland which is further north and gets
far more cloud coverage.”
Best dietary sources of vitamin D:
- Oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
- Fortified margarines
- Breakfast cereals
- Red meat
- Egg yolk
- Powdered milk
How to boost your levels:
Dr Sarah Brewer says: “Usual advice is to obtain 10 to 15 minutes sun exposure to face, arms, hands or back, two or three times a week, without sunscreen. Longer exposures do not provide additional benefit, as vitamin D is rapidly degraded by excess UV radiation SPF 8 sunscreen reduces vitamin D production in the skin by 95%, while SPF15 reduces vitamin D production by 99%.”
Choose a vitamin D supplement. It is important firstly that the raw materials are top quality, secondly that research and testing is excellent and thirdly that the manufacturing process is as pure as possible. Not all vitamin D supplements that you find in the pharmacist around the corner or those cheap products in supermarkets satisfy these requirements and the result is that you may not be getting the vitamin D you need from them. There is no guarantee with some of them that there are no contaminants.
We would recommend sticking to brands known to produce excellence, which, unsurprisingly, are ones often recommended by nutritionists for their patients.
Amongst the best of these are BioCare, Lamberts and Solgar. You will find Vitamin E on our site here. To the left of the listing you will see all the brands that supply Vitamin D.