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.’