It is not just those of us with multiple sclerosis, now everyone living in the UK is being recommended to consider taking vitamin D supplements in autumn and winter. And this comes from the country’s top public health advisers.
A government-commissioned report has set the recommended levels at 10 micrograms of the vitamin a day, but officials are concerned this may not be achievable through diet alone, particularly when sunlight, which helps in vitamin D production, is as scarce as it is in the UK.
Small amounts of the vitamin can be found in certain foods but most of our vitamin D needs are met by the action of sunlight on our skin. But there is not enough of that owing to the country’s frequently cloudy and depressing weather. Regular readers of this blog may recall that the grey skies were the main reason Lisa and I moved to the south of Spain last year.
Now, an extensive review of the evidence, carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), suggests everyone over the age of one needs to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day in order to protect bone and muscle health.
And public health officials say, in winter months, people should consider getting this from 10 microgram supplements, if their diet is unlikely to provide it.
Foods that do contain vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals.
As far as multiple sclerosis is concerned, the US National MS Society says: “Research is increasingly pointing to a reduced level of vitamin D in the blood as a risk factor for developing MS, and studies are underway to determine if vitamin D levels influence MS disease activity. Recent research also points to a possible role for vitamin D in neuroprotection and myelin repair.”
More generally, vitamin D is important because it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital for the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
However, balance is important because both too high a level of vitamin D is as dangerous as too low a level.
Too little can lead to rickets in children – where the bones become soft, weak and misshapen as they continue to grow. And vitamin D deficiency in adults can lead to osteomalacia – which causes severe bone pain and muscle aches.
On the other hand, too much vitamin D can lead to high levels of calcium in the blood which can cause heart and kidney problems.