Should everyone be taking a vitamin D pill? Natural sunshine is the main and best source of it, but it seems like every week we’re given different advice on how much sun we should be getting (or not). It can be tough to weigh up the benefits of natural vitamin D from time outside compared to skin cancer risk from sun exposure.
National surveys suggest that around 20% of adults and up to 24% of children have low levels of vitamin D. Current government advice is that at-risk groups (pregnant women, children up to the age of five, adults over 65, and people with darker skin as well those who do not expose their skin to sunlight) should take a daily vitamin D supplement. So how about for the rest of us: should everyone be popping a sunshine vitamin?
The impact of not getting enough ‘sunshine vitamin’
The bleak British weather and the fact that our lives are increasingly spent indoors means that much of the population is not receiving healthy amounts of this essential vitamin from sunlight and natural food sources alone are not enough to boost level. Oliver Gillie, a scientist and a passionate advocate for universal supplementation says:
“Children aren’t getting out in the sun anymore – if they were it would be a different story. Adults aren’t getting out either – there’s television and computers and houses are better heated and more comfortable. People aren’t getting out like they used to.”
Oliver says that vitamin D deficiency impacts on so many things, from energy to mood, and children and adults alike should taking supplements. He says that the most crucial time to take vitamin D is when women are trying to get pregnant (it may even make them more fertile), throughout their pregnancy and also during breastfeeding and when kids are growing up. He warns:
“Vitamin D is vital for the normal development of your baby at the beginning of life and if women don’t get enough of it during their pregnancy, children are at greater risk of MS, rickets (although rarer these days), diabetes type 1 and even schizophrenia later in life. All of these are linked to low vitamin D levels in pregnancy. In my view everyone should be taking it all the time because we’re simply not getting out in the sun, we’re all too busy.”
But GP Dr Roger Henderson’s view is that most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet (oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, fortified reakfast cereals, red meat, egg yolk, cheese and powdered milk are the best dietary sources) and by getting some sun exposure, so routine supplementation is not usually needed for many.