VITAMIN D deficiency hits one in four adults, but even babies are at risk, medical experts warn.

Studies reveal one in four people over 50 are deficient in vitamin D during the winter months.

“Between October and March there is an insufficient quantity of sunlight to allow adequate production of Vitamin D,” Denis O’Driscoll, (Denis) Superintendent Pharmacist at Lloyds Pharmacy told Irish Pharmacy News.

And leading studies show clear variations in vitamin D deficiency across the country, with the north and west having the highest levels.

But wherever you are, the lack of this important vitamin is a concern.

“Sun rays during winter are the incorrect quality for production and any stores that our body may have are lost quite rapidly,” said Mr O’Driscoll.

“Some of those most at risk of deficiency include individuals with darker skin, and pregnant women.”

These concerns are backed by a recent study from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) at Trinity College Dublin reveals

“The high rates of deficiency seen in the older adult population are of concern given that vitamin D deficiency can be treated easily with supplementation,” warned Principal investigator, professor Rose-Anne Kenny.

“This has significant policy and practice implications for Government and health services.”

Health professionals including pharmacists are being urged to help people understand the risks.

“Given that vitamin D can be treated easily with supplementation, this has significant policy and practice implications for Government and health services,” said professor Kenny.

Mr O’Driscoll agreed: “Vitamin D plays a pivotal part in bone health due to its role in calcium regulation. One of the conditions that adequate intake can prevent is osteoporosis – affecting approximately 300,000 people in Ireland. One in four men and one in two women over 50 years of age are likely to be affected. It is worthwhile to note that cutaneous synthesis of Vitamin D also decreases with age.”

Severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and osteomalacia, or softening of the bones, in adults. It may also increase the risk of many other chronic non-bone related diseases.

As winter sets in pharmacists across the country are preparing to help people tackle Vitamin D shorfalls.

Often, customers ask what is Vitamin D and why do we need this fat-soluble vitamin that can be gained from sunlight and 90 per cent of the time?

“Vitamin D is a collective term used to describe all sterols that demonstrate the biological activity of cholecalciferol, e.g. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)/ Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol),” explained Mr O’Driscoll.

“D3 is the most favourable form of Vitamin D as this is the natural, most potent form that the body makes from sunlight.”

Vitamin D is essential for bone metabolism and Is thought to have beneficial health effects for muscle strength and non-skeletal health.

However, even during summer, when the body normally produces vitamin D, five per cent of adults were deficient, the Trinity research revealed.

Despite the benefits, the TCD study found only 8.5 per cent of those surveyed were found to be supplementing their diet with vitamin D.

Lead author of the study and Research Fellow at TILDA, Dr Eamon Laird, said: “This is the largest representative study of the vitamin D status of older adults ever conducted in Ireland and is also one of largest in the world. There are striking differences in the prevalence of deficiency across different physical and lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking and physical inactivity, all of which are modifiable risk factors.”

Meanwhile, there is evidence showing Vitamin D may have other health benefits including reducing the risk of bowel cancer and –most recently — breast cancer.

Dietary sources include oily fish (e.g. salmon/tuna), egg yolks or fortified foods including milk/cereal. (D2 would be a preferred supplement for vegans as D3 is sourced from animals).

However, these foods are often not regularly consumed and often don’t contain a sufficient supply

There is some voluntary fortification food products, and there have been calls for this program to expand to include a wider range of foods.

And Supporting HSE Guidelines the Superintendent Pharmacist said: “all infants under one year of age, be they breastfed, formula fed or eating solid foods – should be supplemented with at least 5μg (200IU) daily.”

Vitamin D intake is recommended at 10–20 micrograms daily. However, some studies suggest that a higher daily intake of between 38μg and 75μg is needed to maintain optimal blood levels

There is some voluntary fortification of food products, and there have been calls for a wider range of foods to be fortified with the vitamin.

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