Vitamin D supplements are a hot topic, and have hit the headlines again this week.
New research, published in the British Medical Journal, claims vitamin D supplements could prevent more than three million acute respiratory tract infections – like cold or flu, in the UK each year.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. Traditionally, this is seen to keep bones, teeth and muscle healthy but these new findings suggest vitamin D also has a role in the immune system.
The study pulls together data from 25 clinical trials, conducted in 14 countries. It concludes there is a strong case for fortifying foods with the vitamin, which has already been introduced with success in other vitamin D, deficient countries.
However, Public Health England (PHE) has suggested that the evidence is inconclusive and does not support the use of vitamin D to prevent colds or flu.
As vitamin D is absorbed by human skin when exposed directly to sunlight, many people have low levels during the darker months of the year.
In 2016, PHE published new guidelines recommending that everyone should take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement during the British autumn and winter months, the equivalent found over the counter.
And for certain population groups, like us living in the North East, we should consider taking supplements all year round.
Whether vitamin D can help prevent people from getting the common cold or flu, the jury is still out.
However, the current average intake of vitamin D from foods naturally containing vitamin D, is only about 3 micrograms, so when there is insufficient sunlight to top it up, people can easily become deficient.
Experts believe vitamin D insufficiency can lead to autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, neuromuscular diseases, osteoporosis and many more complications.
NICE recommends that local authorities, primary care, and clinical commissioning groups should support health professionals in recommending vitamin D supplements whenever possible, to ensure good health outcomes are achieved.
This means the public need to be provided with ongoing advice and guidance of the reasons why vitamin D supplementation is required. For the moment, this is arguably lacking.
What I can say for sure – this won’t be the last time we see vitamin D in the headlines during 2017.
If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, then we recommend talking to your GP.
Prof Adrian Martineau, at Queen Mary University of London, who led the study said: “Vitamin D fortification of foods provides a steady, low-level intake of vitamin D that has virtually eliminated profound vitamin D deficiency in several countries.
“By demonstrating this new benefit of vitamin D, our study strengthens the case for introducing food fortification to improve vitamin D levels in countries such as the UK where profound vitamin D deficiency is common.”
Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, said: “The case for universal vitamin D supplements, or food fortification, is now undeniable.
“Governments and health professionals need to take Martineau’s study into account when setting Vitamin D policy now.”
The head of nutrition science at Public Health England, Professor Louis Levy said: “The evidence on vitamin D and infection is inconsistent and this study does not provide sufficient evidence to support recommending vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections.”