Vitamin D supplements crucial during autumn and winter months study reveals
Public Health England recommends all Britons to take a supplement of ten micrograms of vitamin D, particularly from October to March.
Levels of vitamin D deficiency in Britain are the highest in 50 years, with one in five adults suffering severe deficiency.
Low levels in adults are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, bowel cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. In infants, a lack of vitamin D can lead to brittle bones and rickets.
Unless people eat ten micrograms of vitamin D a day — equivalent to two and a half tins of tuna, one salmon fillet or ten eggs — they should take supplements as well, the new guidelines say.
Dr Louis Levy, the head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said:
“A healthy balanced diet and short bursts of sunshine will mean most people get all the vitamin D they need in spring and summer.
“However, everyone will need to consider taking a supplement in the autumn and winter if you don’t eat enough foods that contain vitamin D or are fortified with it.
"And those who don’t get out in the sun or always cover their skin when they do should take a vitamin D supplement throughout the year.”
Previously only high-risk groups such as pregnant women, people with dark skin or those with no access to sunlight due to ill health or old age were advised to take supplements.
Official figures show that 4,638 children admitted to NHS hospitals in 2013-14 were found to have vitamin D deficiency, compared with 1,398 in 2009-10. Vitamin D’s main function is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
Susan Fairweather-Tait, professor of mineral metabolism at University of East Anglia, said:
“It is almost impossible to get enough vitamin D through food. The majority of people in Britain drop to very low levels in the winter and bone loss becomes a real risk.”
Indoor jobs, poor diets and British weather are depriving people of the “sunshine vitamin”, according to Public Health England (PHE) said.
However, officials were accused of being overly cautious, as the clinical benefits of dietary supplements are questioned.
In 2013 experts concluded that vitamin supplements were almost always a waste of money. One in three Britons takes a nutritional supplement. The most popular are multi-vitamins, followed by vitamin C.
Saverio Stranges from the Luxembourg Institute of Health, who contributed to the 2013 study, criticized the new guidelines.
“The data on the effectiveness of supplements is limited, lacking and controversial,” he said.