Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

A report in the British Medical Journal suggests that vitamin D could protect against acute respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D also has other benefits. But are people getting enough?

Recent changes to Public Health England (PHE) guidelines about vitamin D requirements have caused some uncertainty amongst patients about who should and who shouldn’t be taking extra of this essential vitamin.

New recommendations suggest that anyone aged one and over should be having a minimum daily intake of 10 micrograms of vitamin D and that if it is not possible to get this naturally, then supplements may be considered.

PHE’s latest advice follows research showing that one in five of us are not getting enough vitamin D.

That’s mainly because our lifestyles have changed, with people staying indoors more and a lot of us, particularly children, being less active than in previous generations.

Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles because of it’s unique ability to influence the amount of calcium in our bodies.

One result of the shortage of vitamin D has been an increase in rickets among children, a condition we thought had been wiped out in the Victorian era, that can leave youngsters bow-legged.

While vitamin D occurs naturally in some foods such as oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolk, and specially fortified foods, including breakfast cereals and fat spreads, the main source is sunlight.

Because of our climate in the UK, PHE are therefore recommending we all consider taking a vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter because there’s not enough sun around in those months to get it naturally.

And they have added that those groups who are particularly vulnerable should consider taking it all year round.

At-risk groups include anyone whose skin has little exposure to sunlight, including the elderly, who often stay inside more.

People with dark skin, from African, African-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, may also need to use the supplement all year round. The melanin pigment, which gives skin it’s colour and is found in greater concentrations in dark skin, does not absorb sunlight particularly well, so it is hard to get the necessary vitamin D from sunlight in the summer.

Children aged one to four years should also have vitamin D supplements all year. They are particularly vulnerable as their bones are forming so it is especially important that they get the recommended amount. The requirements are slightly lower for infants under one year of age, at a dose of supplement of 8.5 -10 micrograms per day. The exception to that is babies who are on formula milk, which already has added vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements are widely available from supermarkets and chemists. However if you are uncertain about whether or not you should be taking a supplement, speak to your doctor.

Pharmacy2U’s sister company, ChemistDirect.co.uk, stocks a range of vitamins.