Experts review vitamin D advice


Concerns over vitamin D deficiency - A quarter of toddlers affected

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The chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, is to contact medical staff about concerns young children and some adults are not getting enough vitamin D.

Government guidelines recommend some groups, including the under-fives, should take a daily supplement.

However, recent research found that many parents and health professionals were unaware of the advice.

There has been an increase in childhood rickets over the past 15 years.

According to Dr Benjamin Jacobs, from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, links to heart disease and some cancers are also being investigated.

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It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups”

End Quote Dame Sally Davies Chief medical officer for England

The consultant paediatrician told BBC Breakfast that the hospital saw about one severe case a month of rickets - softening of bones through lack of vitamin D in childhood.

He said: "There are many other children who have less severe problems - muscle weakness, delay in walking, bone pains - and research indicates that in many parts of the country the majority of children have a low level of vitamin D."

The Feeding for Life Foundation report, published in October last year, suggested one in four toddlers in the UK is vitamin D deficient.

However, this may be an underestimate as only vitamin D from food was included, and not any vitamin D obtained through sun exposure.

Vitamin D supplements are recommended for all people at risk of a deficiency, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under five years old, people aged over 65, and people at risk of not getting enough exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D is mainly obtained from sunlight. However, too much sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer.

According to one recent study, nearly three-quarters of parents and more than half of health professionals are unaware of the recommendations.

The Department of Health has asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to review the issue of current dietary recommendations on vitamin D.

Dame Sally Davies: "We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood. People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements.

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"Our experts are clear - low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

"Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

"It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups."

It has long been known that vitamin D prevents rickets and children were once given food supplements like cod liver oil.

However, this practice was stopped in the 1950s because it was thought unnecessary.

In the last 10 years, doctors have been seeing more cases of vitamin D deficiency, leading to a debate over the use of food supplements and concern that many medical staff are unaware of the problem.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Not enough sun and you might get rickets

    Too much sun and you might get skin cancer.

    Can't win can we?

    Take supplements and pharmacy companies win so its not all bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    "Between March and October there is enough UVB sunlight to give us enough Vit D to last through the winter"

    Who is 'us'? Isle of Wight? London? Shetland Islands?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    #60 presuming you're white (darker skin needs much more sun exposure) and not extremely sensitive to sunburn (my wife burns in minutes, I rarely do) that sounds more or less right. As well as sunshine you also need a diet with the correct amount of calcium (ie milk, cheese etc) which is why DoctorLecters comments about poverty are correct. With a really poor diet sunlight isn't enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    one has to be careful what supplements you takes, as you can OD on some vitamins & minerals if not careful. Also be wary of advice of "medical experts" many a time new studies change the advice around!. Everybody is different and everyones needs are different.

    Best advice is to eat healthy(ish), get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Go out and enjoy the sun in summer and the crisp air in winter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    My mother in law was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency later last year and she lives in Australia! You would think that living in such a sunny place would spare you of this kind of problem. The reality is that people have become so scared of skin cancer that they stay away from the sunlight at all costs.She certainly covers herself from head to toes before stepping out of the house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    A neighbour asked me why I cruelly allowed my children to play on the frost-covered garden recently. It was a brilliantly sunny day with hardly a breath of wind. My kids, 3 and 6, sweaty with exertion from racing their bikes over them, roaring with laughter, had discarded their coats. I was stuck for an answer that wasn't self-evident. Yes, I could keep them inside and give them supplements...

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    One of the problems with advice to take supplements is that it can encourage overdosing on some vitamins and minerals causing health problems as severe as underdosing.
    I eat a wide variety of foods including 7 portions of fresh fruit and veg every day but as western diets are deficient in Omega 3 I take these supplements daily. Multi vitamin/mineral tablets are limited to a couple per week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Oh please, you don't need supplements, just sunshine!! Too many people are slathered in factor 50 (skin cancer), or are covered up all the time. Use some common sense, don't go out in the midday sun without protection in full summer, but people need some sun exposure. Religions that make people cover up, would probably need supplements. Maybe burkhas etc are not a good idea in UK climate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @ 44. carryon69
    "Does anyone know about the 50000 iu prescriptions being dished out by GP's? This is 500 times the daily suggested daily intake. Any comments?"

    Published cases of toxicity, for which serum levels and dose are known, all involve intake of ≥ 40000 IU (1000 mcg) per day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Beer is quite high in vitamin D (and vitamins A, B and E, zero fat, low sodium, less calories than milk or apple juice and high in polyphenols).

    Even the alcohol is a contributory factor to the fact that no pathogenic bacteria can survive in beer - on average it is safer to drink than water.

    However, as with all things, you've got to get the dosage right...

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I seem to recall an interview with a Dr on the radio who said that 30 mins of sun exposure to your arms 2 or 3 times a week was sufficient to ensure a healthy vitamin D level.

    Can anyone confirm the amount of sun exposure required, assuming walking to the shops so only face and arms exposed? Not wanting to suggest baring anything else in these temperatures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Supplements may be recommended for pregnant women and under 5s, but I have never been told this by any health professional despite having 5 babies. I don't know anyone who has taken supplements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    #54 Depends whether you can understand the advice about moderation being best as to whether you should take offence doesn't it?

    The BBC health blogs seem filled with cranks spouting nonsense about the dangers of pharmaceuticals yet demanding mega-doses of vitamins (artificially produced in pharmaceutical factories). Simple common sense isn't half as popular as conspiracy & pseudo-science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Well this is not the only thing medical professionals are unaware of in this country. I give my son a drop of Vitamin D each day and they do this in most of continental Europe

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Between March and October there is enough UVB sunlight to give us enough Vit D to last through the winter. Takes longer to burn than get enough Vit D. Spending longer in sun doesn't give you more Vit D. Everyone's different, but you don't need to spend long in sun to get enough Vit D and sensible sun protection doesn't stop you getting enough Vit D. Also helps mental health esp. depression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The need to reinforce this message via the chief medical officer simply shows the lack of importance placed upon essential nutrients by most health care providers. A similar message regarding Zinc was made over 30 years ago, but you would be hard pressed to find most doctors having any concern relating to this deficiency either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Peter_sym (29 &10) complains that his posts are not attracting enough votes of approval and writes-

    "As I said some people here are too stupid to understand health advice"

    Has it not occurred to Mr Sym that insulting people with sneering references to "brain surgeons" and calling them "stupid" is not the best way to achieve popularity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.


    Is there not a correllation to poverty as well?

    Since all people can afford sunlight.... probably not! stop tying to create left wing issues out of everything.


    What is left wing about DoctorLecter's comments? People in poverty suffer from all sorts of illnesses, and that includes ricketts which is caused by a lack of vitimin D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I start the day with a cod liver oil capsule for breakfast, washed down with cranberry juice.
    Anything that happens after that is a bonus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Using Vitamin D to boost our immune system is good. However, we need to keep in mind that when our immune systems are at their best, as they generally our in the Summer time, this is the most danagerous time to receive a vaccination i.e. the immune system becomes so good that it then creates antibodies to other parts of the vaccine leaving us with lifelong allergies and autoimmune disorders


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