Scotland

All Scots advised to take vitamin D says new health guidance

Fish oil capsules Image copyright PA
Image caption Fish oils are a rich source of vitamin D which is vital for healthy bones

Scots should consider taking vitamin D supplements all-year round, but particularly in autumn and winter, according to new health advice.

The vitamin is crucial for the production of healthy bones and low levels can lead to rickets in children.

Topping up vitamin D levels could also help prevent multiple sclerosis which is particularly common in Scotland.

A government-commissioned report sets a recommended level of 10 micrograms of the vitamin per day.

Limited amounts of the nutrient are found in foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals.

But, for most people, the bulk of their vitamin D is made from the action of sunlight on their skin.

Young babies

Lower levels of sunlight in winter, however, can lead to reduced levels of the vitamin.

Now the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition (SACN) suggests everyone over the age of one needs to consume daily supplements in order to protect bone and muscle health.

The guidance comes following an extensive review of the evidence in England and Wales over the last five years.

The advice also recommends a daily supplement for infants under one year, at a reduced dose.

Image copyright BIOPHOTO ASSOCIATES/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell confirmed that Scotland would adopt most of the recommendations, apart from for young babies.

There is currently no recommendation for vitamin D supplements for babies under six months in Scotland.

It is believed that young babies receive sufficient vitamin D through their mothers' breast milk or formula, which is fortified with the nutrient.

Mrs Campbell said: "We note SACN's report and recommendations. Our advice for everyone aged six months and over has been updated in line with the recommendations.

"We are assessing if our advice for infants under six months should be revised.

"Women and children from families who are eligible for Healthy Start can already get free vitamin supplements and all pregnant women will be entitled to free vitamins from Spring 2017, which will include the recommended dose of vitamin D."

The nutrient's main function is to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

Use of sunscreen

In extreme cases, low levels can lead to rickets in children - where the bones become soft and weak and misshapen as they grow.

In adults, vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteomalacia - causing severe bone pain and muscle aches.

Previous advice in Scotland that recommended top-up, daily supplements for a few at-risk groups, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, and over-65s, still stands.

For example, people whose skin receives little exposure to the sun, or who always cover their skin to go outside, should take the supplements throughout the year.

Black and Asian people should also consider the supplements all-year round.

Also, the use of sunscreen prevents the creation of vitamin D in the skin, meaning it needs to be exposed without protection to the sun sometimes.

Dr Louis Levy, of Public Health England, told BBC Radio 4: "When you go out, you do need to have short bursts without sunscreen but make sure that you don't get sunburnt."

The SACN review looked at studies suggesting Vitamin D levels might have an impact on cancers, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis but found there was insufficient evidence to draw any firm conclusions.

Scotland, however, is a hotspot for MS and some experts believe the country's high latitude and lack of sunlight may be a contributory factor.

There have been calls for more foods to be fortified with the vitamin in a bid to cut levels of the disease.

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