Vitamin D

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has recommended an intake of 10 micrograms per day, but warns this may not be achievable during autumn and winter.

This intake applies to those of all ages except infants under one year old, for whom a ‘safe intake’ of 8.5 to 10 micrograms per day is proposed.

In a government-commissioned report, the SACN reviewed the available evidence and found that previous UK dietary recommendations for vitamin D levels were insufficient. It was thought that the average Brit would synthesise enough DNA from sunlight in the summer to cover their needs during October to March, but the SACN have determined that this is not the case.

Official estimates suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels of vitamin D. This can cause rickets in children, which causes growing bones to become weak and misshapen. In adults, osteomalacia (severe bone pain and muscle aches) may develop.

It has long been known that vitamin D plays a significant role in maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles through its regulation of calcium and phosphate in the body, but the different factors that affect sunlight synthesis of vitamin D and the limited amount found in foods – such as oily fish and eggs – have influenced the government’s endorsement of supplements.

Referring to the news, distinguished campaigner, medical writer and long-time vitamin D proponent Dr Oliver Gillie told JFH:

“It’s exciting that we have arrived after what has been for me a campaign which began some 12 years ago. I never even dreamed of the splash in The Times.

Dr Gillie was referring to the reaction to his 2004 ‘Sunlight Robbery’ report, in which he drew attention to the damage caused by vitamin D deficiency and advocated the potential benefits of sunlight. In 2012, he featured in a round-table discussion hosted by JFH entitled ‘The Big Debate: Vitamin D’, and it is largely down to his tireless campaign work that the Government’s decision has come about.

Prof Peter Selby of the University of Manchester was another who welcomed the potential implications for public health. He said:

"In particular, it dispels any doubt of the place of vitamin D in the maintenance of bone health and should ensure that all people will now be encouraged to receive vitamin D to reduce their risk of bone disease and fracture."

A blog written on this subject by Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, can be found here on our website.