The Government is now advising the public to take Vitamin D supplements in winter. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has produced a report on Vitamin D levels for the Government, emphasising that everyone in Britain over the age of one should take 10 mcg of Vitamin D a day.
Sunshine accounts for 90 per cent of our intake of Vitamin D, which poses a problem for anyone living in northern Europe in winter time and even in summer (when you get poor summers like this one).
Deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to bone loss, poor muscle function and an increased risk of falls and fractures – an increasing problem as people get older. Migraines, regular headaches, joint pain, depression, SAD or insomnia can also point to a Vitamin D deficiency. The Chief Medical Officer is suggesting extending free vitamins to more young children, rather than just those from low income families who currently receive them. Also at risk are pregnant and breastfeeding women and the over 65s, who should be taking supplements. Not only is Vitamin D essential for the bones and heart it is also needed for a healthy immune and nervous system, enables blood to clot normally and maintains healthy teeth.
Why we become deficient:
- In northern countries we have six months of very little sun.
- Winter sun in the UK is not strong enough for Vitamin D to be made in the body.
- Few people get enough Vitamin D from their diet.
- The skin cancer message may have been taken to extremes – we need sunlight, but not excessive sun bathing.
- Vitamin D in the body only lasts for three weeks.
- Some people cover up their bodies for religious or fashion reasons.
All things in moderation mean that you don’t have to lie in the hot sun for hours on end to get enough exposure. A sensible amount of exposure (20 to 30 minutes) will do more good than harm, particularly on sunny summer days that aren’t necessarily hot.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy immune function, cognitive function, and bone health.
• Salmon and other oily fish
• Fortified breakfast cereals
Health experts claim that people are not eating enough of the above. In the US the recommended daily levels of intake of Vitamin day are 5 mcg a day.
Problems caused by Vitamin D deficiency
A deficiency in Vitamin D activates the mechanism that boosts blood pressure; stimulates the parathyroid hormone which increases inflammation, and increases insulin resistance – insulin is not recognised by the body, leading to high blood sugar levels.
• High blood pressure/hypertension
• Heart disease
• Osteoporosis – affects 1.2 million women in the UK
• Colo-rectal and breast cancers
• Rickets (severe deficiency)
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The UK government recommends that pregnant women and nursing mums take 10mcg of Vitamin D daily. Breast fed babies need 7-8.5 mcg a day, while formula milk is fortified with Vitamin D. Although Vitamin D supplements are recommended to pregnant women and children under five, it is this advice is often overlooked by GPs and much of the official information is vague.
Australia changes its sun message
Seven charities in the UK have issued joint guidelines about Vitamin D, recommending short spells in the sun without suncream. Two of the charities endorsing the health message are Cancer Research UK and the National Osteoporosis Society.
According to the BBC, Professor Rona Mackie, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said sun protection with high factor suncream on all the time is not ideal, in terms of Vitamin D levels.
‘Even Australia has changed its policy on this. They’re now producing charts showing parts of Australia where sun protection may not be required during some parts of the year. Some of the messages about sun exposure have been too negative. UK summer sunshine isn’t desperately strong. We don’t have many days in the year when it is very intense.
‘What’s changed is that we’re now saying that exposure of 10 to 15 minutes to the UK summer sun, without sun cream, several times a week is probably a safe balance between adequate vitamin D levels and any risk of skin cancer.”