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Sun, diet and education can all help in fight against vitamin D deficiency, says expert
09 February 2012
Greenwich, University of
“Make vitamin D while the sun shines,” is the message from a University of Greenwich nutrition expert.
Dr Tatiana Christides, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition at the university’s School of Science, believes adults in the UK need to be storing up enough sun between May and September to combat vitamin D deficiency.
She explains: “When light of a certain ultraviolet wavelength hits the skin the process of synthesising vitamin D begins. This in part depends upon the angle of the sun and in the UK, depending on exactly where you live, we get that light between about April through to September, so if you’re getting outside during those months you’re probably banking enough for the rest of the year, especially if you’re eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as eggs and oily fish.
“The debate on sunshine tends to be about the harm it can do but now we’re talking about the benefits as well.”
Awareness of vitamin D deficiency – which can cause bone disease, dental problems and muscle weakness - is increasing in the UK. Scotland's chief medical officer, Sir Harry Burns, last week backed his English counterpart, Dame Sally Davies, in recommending that pregnant women, and children from six months to five years who are not on formula, should be taking daily vitamin D supplements.
Dr Christides adds: “The Department of Health’s at-risk groups – children up to five, pregnant women and people aged over 65 – should be taking vitamin D supplements. Right here at Greenwich’s School of Science we are doing an audit on whether a vulnerable elderly group in the local community is getting enough vitamin D. The rest of the population are assumed to be getting enough.
“But there will always be people falling between these groups, so if someone is indoors a lot or covers their skin for cultural reasons, they could be at risk. Communication and education is key.”
Healthy Start, an NHS scheme which gives free weekly vouchers to spend on milk, fruit, vegetables, infant formula milk and free vitamins, has seen a slow take up. The scheme is open to woman from the tenth week of pregnancy or if they have a child aged under four, pregnant women aged under 18, and families claiming certain benefits.
“This advice about supplements has been out there for a few years,” says Dr Christides. “It’s only now being amplified as we see more cases of rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, which are symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.”