A lack of vitamin D is very common. One survey in the UK showed that about 1 in 5 adults and about 1 in 5 children in the UK have low vitamin D levels.
Why do we need vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus which keeps our bones, teeth and muscles healthy and strong.
Deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults which causes bone pain and tenderness.
Where do we get Vitamin D from?
We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin when we are outdoors. It is important to balance making vitamin D with being safe in the sun - take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before your skin starts to turn red or burn.
From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people get enough vitamin D from sunlight, however from October to March the sunlight in the UK doesn't contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D.
During this time we rely on other sources of vitamin D such as food and supplements.
Vitamin D is found in a small number of foods;
- oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and trout
- egg yolks
- red meat and offal
- ‘fortified foods’ – margarines, cereals, infant formula milk
Another source of vitamin D is dietary supplements. Public Health England has advised that during autumn and winter everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement of 10micrograms.
The Department of Health recommends:
- Breastfed babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D. Formula-fed babies will be receiving vitamin D from their fortified infant formula, however if they are having less than 500ml a day they may need supplements
- Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given an all year round daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D
- All adults and children over 5 years old are recommended to take a daily vitamin D supplements containing 10 micrograms throughout autumn and winter
- People at risk of vitamin D deficiency should take supplements of 10 microgram daily all year round
- If you don’t spend a lot of time outdoors e.g. frail, housebound, in a care home
- Usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
If you have dark skin e.g. African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background – you may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight.
Vitamin D is available to purchase, at low cost, from supermarkets, health shops and pharmacies.
You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (for under 5s) at most pharmacies, supermarkets and health food shops.
Supplements should not routinely be prescribed by your doctor. In March 2018, NHS England published guidance restricting the prescribing of items which can be purchased over-the-counter. This guidance included vitamins and minerals.
Women and children who qualify for the Healthy Start scheme can get free supplements containing the recommended amounts of vitamin D and some other important vitamins. For further information about Healthy Start, speak to your midwife, family nurse, health visitor or visit their website.
If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, 10μg a day will be enough for most people.
People who take supplements are advised not to take more than 100μg of vitamin D a day, as it could be harmful (100 micrograms is equal to 0.1 milligrams).
This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17.
Children aged 1 to 10 shouldn't have more than 50μg a day. Babies under 12 months shouldn't have more than 25μg a day.
Some people have medical conditions that mean they may not be able to take as much vitamin D safely.
If in doubt, you should talk to your Pharmacist. There's no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but always remember to cover up or protect your skin before the time it takes you to start turning red or burn.