News: New Vitamin D recommendations
With the dark winter nights fast approaching what better time to discuss a topic which is particularly relevant at this time of year. By now may of you will be aware of the new recommendations from the governments advisory committee on nutrition that advise everybody to consider taking vitamin D supplements over the Winter months. Whilst the recommendations have been somewhat exaggerated by some newspapers, such as the Express whose headline “everyone should take vitamin D” is not completely accurate. The new recommendations advise that adults and children over the age of one year should consider taking vitamin D supplementation of 10 micrograms per day, particularly over autumn and winter. Those people who are at high-risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as those who are immobile, live in care homes, or those who cover themselves when they are outside should consider taking supplementation all year round. Children under the age of one year should receive vitamin D supplementation at a daily dose of 8.5-10mcg daily but this may not be necessary if the baby receives over 500ml of infant formula daily as these products are fortified.
One in five people have low vitamin D levels and for practising pharmacists it is becoming increasingly common to be presented with a prescription for colecalciferol. But why is vitamin D deficiency so prevalent over the winter months?
Vitamin D is found in foods like red meat, oily fish, egg yolks, and cereals. However, it is difficult to obtain sufficient vitamin D from diet alone. Instead, the action of sunlight on the skin is the primary means of obtaining vitamin D. Unfortunately during the autumn and winter months sunlight is often not of sufficient intensity to produce enough vitamin D. As yet, it is unclear how much time is needed in the sun to produce enough vitamin D and indeed there are many factors that determine the rate of vitamin D production, such as skin colour and amount of skin that is exposed to sunlight. And whilst exposure to sunlight is necessary for vitamin D production, patients should be careful to avoid unnecessary or excessive exposure that may result in sunburn and skin damage, thereby increasing cancer risk.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which in turn maintains the structure, integrity and function of the bones, teeth, and muscles. Inadequate levels of vitamin D can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia (bone pain and tenderness) in adults
With 1.6 million people visiting a pharmacy each day in England alone, pharmacists are in an ideal position to educate the public about the new recommendations to prevent vitamin D deficiency in the first instance.