Vitamin D: is it time to take a pill?

Our nutritionist looks at new advice from Public Health England:

New guidelines from Public Health England (PHE) recommend that we all consider taking a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement throughout the autumn and winter months (September to March).

This advice is based on the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) following its review of the evidence of vitamin D and health.

Considering for years we’ve been confident that we can get all the nutrients we need by following a balanced diet and getting enough sunshine, these new guidelines are interesting. Nutracheck nutritionist, Emma Clarke, has delved a little further.

“Vitamin D is made in the skin by the action of sunlight and is stored in our bodies. It’s vital for musculoskeletal health, so it’s important to avoid being deficient in.

“The SACN can’t say exactly how much vitamin D is made in the skin through exposure to sunlight, so it is now recommending a daily dietary intake of 10 micrograms.

“Until this review, the advice we were given regarding vitamin D was that most people, who had some sun exposure throughout the summer months (April to August) and ate a balanced diet, would make all the vitamin D the body needed. This would even last through the autumn and winter months, when we can’t make our own because the sun’s rays aren’t strong enough.

“Now, with emerging evidence on other potential roles for vitamin D, and advice to cover up in the sun and always wear a high factor sun cream, there are concerns we may not be making the amount of vitamin D we need. Whilst wearing sun cream is the best approach for protecting our skin from harmful rays, sun cream inhibits the production of vitamin D in our skin.

“You can get some vitamin D from a small number of foods – but the one’s that do contain it don’t have very much of it. There’s also some doubt over how well vitamin D from food is absorbed into the body, so getting what we need from our food each day would be tricky.”

The following foods are some of the best dietary sources of vitamin D, with how much vitamin D they approximately contain:

1 egg – 2 micrograms
100g salmon fillet – 5 micrograms
100g cooked liver – 1 microgram
10g fortified margarine – 0.7 micrograms

Added Emma: “You don’t need to be outside in the sunshine for very long to make vitamin D. Just 10 minutes of sunlight (without any sunscreen), between 11am and 3pm, on your bare forearms every day during the spring and summer months, should be enough to make sufficient Vitamin D. Hanging out the washing, or watering the garden might just be long enough – but always be aware of the strength of the sun, and how sensitive your skin is to it to ensure you don’t burn or damage your skin.

“So, if you don’t go outside much when the sun’s out, or if you wear high factor sun cream, you may want to consider a supplement all year round.”
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