A third of Brits are vitamin D deficient according to new research review
A third of Brits are vitamin D deficient, according to a new study research review by the Health & Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), published in The Food and Nutrition Journal. The review’s authors also shone a light on the mounting evidence pointing to the importance of the sunshine nutrient for our health and wellbeing.
The research pointed to a study that showed amongst 210,502 patients who had a vitamin D test a third were deficient (with deficiency identified as a blood level below 30 nmol/litre) highlighting worrying gaps in the UK's vitamin D levels.
The UK recommends a dose of 10 mcg daily to achieve a serum concentration of 25(OH)D of at least 25 nmol/litre, but in Europe and the US, where the target level of 25(OH)D is more than 50 nmol/litre, data suggest that 10 mcg daily of vitamin D would allow only approximately 50% of the UK population to achieve the European target. In fact, as HSIS GP and co-author of the study Dr Nisa Aslam points out, “We’d need to take 25 mcg of vitamin D daily to achieve the European target level of more than 50 nmol/litre in 97.5% of the UK population.”
“Closing the gap between vitamin D intakes and recommendations is an imperative to prevent deficiency, and maintain bone and muscle health, particularly to prevent nutritional rickets and osteomalacia,” says co-author of the new research review and Health & Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) nutritionist Dr Pamela Mason. Lack of vitamin D can also cause susceptibility to autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, gut issues and problems with the respiratory system.
“It is crucial to prevent deficiency and ensure that 25(OH)D levels (believed to be the best indicator of vitamin D supply to the body) are at least 25 nmol/litre, and possibly even 50 nmol/litre. This can be achieved reliably only by vitamin D supplementation across the population," adds Aslam.
How to Bridge the gap
A proportion of the vitamin D we need comes from sun exposure but this can cause sunburn and a risk for skin cancer making this natural way of getting the vitamin more complex. "Seasons, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, air pollution, skin melanin content, and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D skin synthesis” says Aslam.
Meanwhile, achieving the UK recommended daily intake of 10 mcg vitamin D, which aims to achieve a serum vitamin D level of more than 25 nmol/litre to avoid deficiency, from food alone is highly challenging.
“Very few foods contain vitamin D and oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, would need to be consumed several times a week if not daily to meet the daily 10 mcg recommendation," says Mason. "This isn’t acceptable to everyone, and only a few foods, such as some cereals and dairy alternatives, are fortified. Supplementation would therefore appear to be the best way to achieve recommended 25(OH)D levels.”
“Encouraging the whole UK population to take the 10-mcg recommended daily dose is important. This dose would allow us to achieve 25(OH)D levels of 25 nmol/litre. However, it’s important to note that this dose would not allow us to achieve the higher serum levels recommended in some other countries,” says Dr Aslam, adding, “Despite the lack of international consensus on intakes and adequacy, getting the whole UK population to take the government recommended 10 mcg daily supplement would reduce the risk of deficiency considerably and this is why people need to take a multivitamin and multimineral including vitamin D or a vitamin D supplement, daily and all year round.”
“Vitamin D is cost-effective and easy to take," concludes Mason. "Additionally, supplementation offers potential cost savings to the NHS. Healthcare professionals are in a position to routinely advise patients to take a 10-mcg daily supplement and to increase their intake of vitamin D-containing foods. Advice needs also to be reinforced through care homes, local parenting and community groups and via faith groups.”
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