Call for free vitamin D supplements for those at risk of deficiency

VITAMIN D supplements should be given free to at-risk groups and made available more cheaply to halt the rise of the 10 million people across England who are low on the vitamin, according to new guidelines.

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Deficiencies of vitamin D can leave a person at risk of rickets and weak bones.

New guidance notes released by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggest local councils consider providing free supplements to at-risk groups, and encourage pharmacies and supermarkets to stock the cheapest vitamin D supplements. A year’s supply to an adult would cost around £6.

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The Department of Health should also work with manufacturers of vitamin D supplements to ensure that products contain the recommended daily amount of the vitamin, Nice said.

Nice Centre for Public Health director Mike Kelly said: “Around 10 million people in England may have low vitamin D status and so could be at risk of health problems - and they may not know it.

“People with darker skin are particularly at risk - during winter months nearly 75 per cent of adults from Asian or African and Caribbean backgrounds may have low vitamin D levels.

“People who are over 65-years old are another group at risk of having low vitamin D levels, and so are also at risk of conditions like osteomalacia - soft bones.”

Most people should get all the vitamin D they need through sunlight and a healthy diet. But some may need supplements, particularly those with darker skin as they don’t produce vitamin D well following exposure to sunlight.

Other people at risk of vitamin D deficiency are pregnant women, children, people over 65, and those who have limited sun exposure, such as those who cover their skin for cultural reasons.

Professor Hilary Powers, of the University of Sheffield’s Human Nutrition Unit, is chair of Public Health England’s vitamin D working group.

She warned that Nice’s guidelines “jumped the gun” advising on supplement intake, as the Department of Health still does not advise of a recommended daily intake for a “regular person.” Currently, only those in at-risk groups are given a specific recommendation of how much vitamin D to take.

Further guidance on when supplements should be taken throughout the year, and how much, was needed, she said.

Lifestyle factors, she said, were more likely to have an affect on vitamin D deficiency than diet.

“In the summer, 80 per cent of the population are proficiently capable of making enough vitamin D by being outside and living a normal lifestyle. It is highly unlikely that all the population would need to take supplements in the summer,” Prof Powers added.

The Royal College of Midwives welcomed the guidance. Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser said: “We would advise women to talk to their midwife or GP for advice on vitamin D supplementation. This is especially important if they fall within the ‘at risk groups’.”