Public Health England (PHE) has published updated guidance on the recommended dietary intake of vitamin D and circumstances where supplementation may be beneficial.
The guidelines specify that everyone needs 10mcg of vitamin D each day to protect their bone and muscle health.
The main source of vitamin D for most people is the action of the sunlight on the skin. PHE has advised that during the spring and summer months exposure to the sun, alongside a healthy balanced diet, will enable the majority of the UK population to achieve the recommended level of vitamin D.
During the autumn and winter months the only source of vitamin D will be dietary and it will be difficult for people to achieve the recommended daily amount solely from foods that naturally contain or are fortified with vitamin D. As a consequence the guidelines now advise that people should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
In addition the guidelines specify that some patient groups may benefit from supplementation throughout the full year. The affected patient groups include people whose skin has little or no sun exposure such as care home residents or people who always cover their skin when outside and ethnic minority groups with dark skin from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds.
Children aged between 1 and 4 years should also receive a daily 10mcg supplement. PHE recommends that breastfed babies under 1 year should receive daily vitamin D supplements of 8.5 to 10mcg. Children who have more than 500ml of infant formula daily do not require vitamin D supplementation as formula milk is already fortified.
Vitamin D is essential to health by regulating the level of calcium and phosphate within the body which are essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
Deficiency of vitamin D in adults can lead to osteomalacia which causes severe muscle and bone pain, whilst in children extreme cases can lead to rickets, which causes soft, weak and deformed bones.
Pharmacists can advise patients that vitamin D is found naturally in oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolk and in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and fat spreads. Pharmacists are also ideally placed to discuss the individual need for supplementation with patients and recommend suitable supplements, such as the Numark vitamin D3 tablet.