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Everyone should consider taking vitamin D pills in winter, say public health chiefs

Everyone in the UK should consider boosting their vitamin D levels during the autumn and winter months by taking a daily supplement, public health experts have announced today.

In new Public Health England guidelines, they encourage everyone over the age of five to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D from October to March.

GP leaders said the move could take the pressure off GPs to prescribe vitamin D for non-specific symptoms, but warned that GPs cannot be involved in mass prescribing of the supplements.

It comes after a Pulse investigation revealed that prescribing of vitamin D by GPs has risen 40% since 2012, with the annual cost now £85m.

The move is in response to a wide-ranging evidence review by Government scientific advisors, also published today, which called for a strategy to ensure everyone over four has sufficient amounts of vitamin D – defined as an intake of 10 micrograms (400 IU) a day.

PHE said that ‘since it is difficult for people to meet the 10 microgram recommendation from consuming foods naturally containing or fortified with vitamin D, people should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D in autumn and winter’.

The guidance reinforces previous Department of Health advice that pregnant women, people with little or no exposure to sun and ethnic minority groups with darker skin should consider taking a supplement all year round.

And children aged one to four are to be given a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement all year, while babies under one year should be given 8.5-10 micrograms vitamin D to make sure they get enough.

Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at PHE, said: ‘A healthy, balanced diet and short bursts of sunshine will mean most people get all the vitamin D they need in spring and summer.

‘However, everyone will need to consider taking a supplement in the autumn and winter if you don’t eat enough foods that naturally contain vitamin D or are fortified with it.

‘And those who don’t get out in the sun or always cover their skin when they do, should take a vitamin D supplement throughout the year.’

Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said the new advice was 'really helpful' as it signified a move away from GPs carrying out vitamin D testing and prescribing.

He said the increase in testing over recent years amounted to ‘unresourced and unscientific screening, with resulting pressures to prescribe and carry out follow-up tests’, but that with the new guidance, ‘GPs will be able to restrict testing to those medical conditions where a true deficiency might be discovered, and the worried well or vaguely off-colour can simply be advised to self-supplement’.

Dr Green stressed that GPs should 'not get involved' with prescribing the supplements.

He said: 'Vitamin D prescriptions are indicated in treating true deficiency which can happen in certain diseases, and is done with high doses that require monitoring.

'This guidance refers to general supplementation for the population at large and prescriptions are not indicated. Supplementation of vitamins for the general population is not part of GMS, so GPs should not get involved.'

Readers' comments (14)

  • What does 'self-supplement' mean - I see queues of people wishes free supplements on the NHS. The phone has not stopped ringing- says the GP.

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  • Or everyone should emigrate to Australia

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  • That's were the GPs have gone too! Pity they are starting to close their doors to the profession, with too much inward migration.

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  • If this is that big an issue shouldn't the powers that be bring in laws to fortify staple foods?

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  • no one can agree a standard dose regime for maintenance or treatment for vit d anyway!!
    what came first the supplement or the problem..

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  • Should be supplied by the NHS if thought necessary. With the exception of provision to health tourists and migrants who cannot prove their worth to the country.

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  • hopefully secondary care will stop testing it in cases of fibro and ME etc. which patients grasp onto and demand frequent testing etc.

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  • I have to thank vitamin D for my launching my career as a Pulse blogger as I wrote to them so incensed with what was going on at the time.

    The laughable thing about this is that we all know that it is difficult to have vitamin D levels above 30 in the winter months (especially for me as I am dark skinned) but we don't know if this actually matters. In other words, we are treating the numbers and not any pathology because there is a real dearth of evidence surrounding any pathological associations in asymptomatic individuals.

    The other vaguely amusing statement here is that "supplementation of vitamins is not part of a GP contract" but prescribing anything a patient asks for to stock up their bathroom cabinet is.

    The sooner this otc prescribing mess is sorted out by national regulation, the better, and I am going to do everything in my power to make this happen.

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  • Vinci Ho

    This is representing a series of 'confession' from the government that it really cannot afford the promises laid down from its predecessor(s);
    Get your own Vitamin D instead of going to your GP
    Hospital waiting time 0is going up as targets are now removed (today BBC health news)
    Of course , you will be struck off if you have not seen your GP for 5 years or more.
    7 days NHS ?? Seriously???

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  • Great - we are back to where we were in WW2 when Dr Hugh Thomas persuaded the government of the day that women and children needed Cod Liver Oil.

    That was inspired and especially difficult since this island was under siege.

    Pity that our public health doctors forgot what was known 70 years ago

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