New proposed vitamin D requirements were introduced in the UK in 2016. How does this affect you?
Until 2016 there were no UK recommendations for vitamin D as it was assumed individuals will make enough from skin exposure to the sun during summer.
Vitamin D3 in particular is essential for bone health, with low levels linked to osteomalacia, the adult form of rickets where bones become soft and painful. This vitamin has also shown beneficial roles in other health outcomes, including reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adults in the UK could be at risk of low vitamin D status.
In the UK we can only make vitamin D from skin exposure to sunlight between April and September, i.e. spring and summer months. Exposing our hands and face to sunlight for 15-20 minutes a day should be adequate. However, sunscreen with an SPF of 15 is estimated to block up to 93% to UVB rays, preventing the synthesis of this precious vitamin in the skin. During winter months in the UK, the sun doesn’t have enough UVB radiation for us to make vitamin D. Therefore, our body uses stores of this vitamin over the winter, which may need topping up.
But what are the new vitamin D recommendations?
Since 2016 the proposed vitamin D intakes for UK individuals aged 4 years and over is set at 10 micrograms (mcg) per day. We should still get most of this vitamin from sunlight on our skin, but there are a small number of foods which are a good source. These include:
Oily fish e.g. salmon, mackerel and sardines (5-10mcg/100g)
Egg yolks (5mcg/100g)
And fortified foods like:
Fortified fat spreads e.g. margarine (5-10mcg/100g)
Fortified breakfast cereals (2.8-5mcg/100g)
Milk alternatives and powdered milks (0.75-1.5mcg/100ml)
As you can see, it is difficult to achieve the recommended intake from natural dietary sources alone, especially if you have dietary requirements e.g. vegetarian or vegan, so supplementation can be a useful way to reach this target. It is advised not to take more than 25mcg a day. There is no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but always cover up or protect your skin before you start turning red or burn!
Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you are unsure of what supplement to take.
For more information about vitamin D visit The British Dietetic Association
Since publishing this article the UK government has released it’s new advice on Vitamin D, and BBC news writes Vitamin D supplements ‘advised for everyone’.