This article has been reproduced by kind permission of The Mail on Sunday YOU Magazine
In January this year, the chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies told parents to give all children under five vitamin D supplements to prevent diseases such as rickets, the bone disease prevalent in Victorian times which has now re-emerged. It’s a big turn round by the government: experts including Department of Health advisors have warned for many years that not only children but many adults are at risk. The recent NHS leaflet on vitamin D explains that deficiency impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphorus, which can lead to bone deformities such as bowed legs in children, and bone pain and tenderness for adults as a result of osteomalacia (the adult version of rickets).
Supplementation is vital for many other groups, adds the NHS leaflet, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women (especially teenagers and young women), over-65s, people with darker skin because their bodies don’t make as much vitamin D (pale skin produces vitamin D much more quickly), plus anyone who isn’t exposed to much sun, including women who cover up for cultural reasons, and anyone’s who’s housebound or indoors for long periods (which includes many office workers).
About 90 per cent of vitamin D is produced through the action of strong summer sunlight on bare skin, explains campaigner Oliver Gillie in his report Sunlight Robbery (healthresearchforum.org.uk). The rest comes from our diet, in the form of oily fish, meat, eggs, butter and some fortified cereals and margarine.
The problem is worst in dark winter months (with up to 69 per cent at risk in Scotland), but although levels should be higher in summertime, a large proportion of the UK is still deficient then mainly because we take sun protection to extremes. Recently, 12 year old Tyler Attrill was diagnosed with the early stages of rickets due to too little sun exposure, despite living on the sunny Isle of Wight. Her mother admitted slopping on SPF50 the minute the sun came out: understandably, given the continued advice from cancer experts, she thought she was ‘doing the right thing’. In fact, 20 per cent of children tested for bone problems in Southampton last year showed signs of rickets, which can also stunt growth and affect teeth.
Furthermore, experts claim there’s accumulating evidence that vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk of many chronic diseases. According to Gillie, these include ’ 16 cancers including breast, bowel, ovary and prostate, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes.’ It’s a contributory cause of heart disease, raised blood pressure, inflammatory bowel diseases, polycystic ovary disease, period problems, infertility, infections, dental decay and depression.
So what’s to do? Even Cancer Research UK now advises ‘regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day…without sunscreen’, as the time it takes to make enough vitamin D is less than that needed for skin to redden and burn (the big risk for skin cancer). From May to August, Oliver Gillie recommends ‘a white skinned person in the UK needs at least 20 minutes three times a week of sunbathing in bright midday sunlight with few clothes…’, longer before midday and after 3pm, and in April and September.
Gillie also believes, with many experts, that everyone should take a supplement. Although 2,000 ius has been considered a ‘good dose’, the US Institute of Medicine report in November 2010 recommends that the upper level intake can safely be 4,000 ius from nine years to 70 plus, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. Infants up to six months can take 400-1,000 ius, from six to 12 months 400-1,500 ius, from one to three years 2,500, and from four to eight years 3,000 ius.
I take D Lux 1000 Spray by Better You, £7.15 for 15 ml (100 doses of 1000iu). There’s also Vitamin D3 1000iu by Life Extension, £17.50 for 250 small capsules. From Victoria Health.
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