It’s not every day that the government changes its health guidelines, which is why we should be paying close attention to a new report on vitamin D from Public Health England.
The latest UK recommendations, based on new findings from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, suggests that everyone aged one year old and above would benefit from a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (400IU) during the autumn and winter months.
This replaces previous advice that only at-risk groups such as the over-65s, people with dark skin from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding required supplements at this time of year.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said: ‘This is a change in advice, previously we have said that babies from six months to five years should have a supplement and only those people at risk of deficiency should take a supplement. Previously we felt that everybody would get enough from the sunlight, but the publication has identified it is not possible to get enough vitamin D from sunlight during the winter months.’
Here’s what you need to know about the new vitamin D recommendations
1 The recommendations are based on the assumption that we get minimal sun exposure (which is most likely the case between October and early March in the UK, where the UVB rays are generally not strong enough to produce vitamin D).
2 The report has not recommended supplements for the summer months, when there is more sunlight. However, Dr Levy drew attention to the fact that vitamin D cannot be created in the skin when you are wearing sun block. He recommends: ‘When you go out you need to have short bursts of sunshine without getting sunburnt.’
3 The new report is based on a body of evidence built up over five years. The last guidelines were published in 1991, and were revised after a request from Public Health England to investigate the guidelines back in 2010.
4 The report is grounded by the importance of vitamin D in regulating levels of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is essential for the maintenance of muscoskeletal health (bones and teeth). Additionally, low vitamin D levels have been linked to everything from increased BMI and cardiovascular diseases, however the committee found that there was insufficient evidence for these benefits to be considered in their conclusions.
5 Infants aged under one year should also take between 8.5 and 10 micrograms of vitamin D, according to the report. There are specific supplements available with for babies of this age, so check with your health provider.