England's national health service (NHS) is advising the entire population to take a daily supplement of vitamin D - which is required by the body for bone, teeth and muscle health - to avoid deficiencies caused by quarantine.
The NHS website provides a 'coronavirus update' stating: "Consider taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day to keep your bones and muscles healthy. This is because you may not be getting enough vitamin D from sunlight if you’re indoors most of the day."
With current government guidelines advising ‘high-risk’ individuals and the elderly to self-isolate for 12 weeks, these people won’t be able to get outside as often as needed to absorb adequate vitamin D and this could increase their risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones.
The sunshine vitamin has recently been studied for its efficacy in aiding the resistance against respiratory infections with researchers advising daily supplementation could help limit the severity of the symptoms of coronavirus.
The study garnered wide press attention but the NHS makes clear this research is not the reason for the change in advice.
It states: "There have been some news reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus. However, there is no evidence that this is the case. You can buy vitamin D supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Do not buy more than you need."
'Vulnerable groups' of the population at greatest risk of inadequate vitamin D status include children aged 1-4 years, and people who don’t often go outdoors such as the frail or housebound, those in care homes, or people who usually cover their skin when going outdoors. Ordinarily, the Government recommends these groups take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement all year round, while other population groups, including pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, are advised to consider taking a daily supplement, particularly during the winter months.
Graham Keen, executive director of the Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA), said this broadened advice is welcome.
"This nutrient is backed by four key elements for success; the science is proven, the strategy is Government-led, a simplicity of message and a ready supply. We believe that, together, these factors will result in good uptake by the population and will demonstrate, yet again, the pivotal role that supplements can play in safeguarding the health of our nation.”
HFMA recently carried out a 'Health of the Nation' survey which revealed that less than a third (31%) of Brits were aware of recommendations that all adults and children over five should consider taking a vitamin D supplement throughout the winter, suggesting many may be low in vitamin D and will particularly need to supplement over the coming months.
Nutritionist Dr Michele Sadler, scientific adviser to the HFMA, says: “An adequate supply of vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is essential all year round to keep your body healthy. Not only is it good for bones and teeth, but research has shown that it also plays a role in the immune system. The three main ways to get adequate vitamin D are from exposure of the skin to sunlight, by eating foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D or fortified with the vitamin, and from a dietary supplement.
“Your body naturally produces vitamin D when it is directly exposed to sunlight containing ultraviolet B radiation and daily sunlight exposure is how most people get sufficient vitamin D. It’s important that everyone has daily exposure to sunlight outdoors, particularly during the spring and summer months, as ultraviolet B does not penetrate through glass.
“Vitamin D is also present in a limited range of foods, which contributes to supplies of vitamin D, but it is difficult to get enough from your diet alone. Including the following foods in your diet will help to top up your vitamin D intake: Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, red meat and liver, eggs, fortified fat spread, fortified breakfast cereals and full fat milk."
“Vulnerable population groups like the housebound and children 1-4 years are advised by PHE to take a daily 10 microgram supplement, and all adults and children over 5 years to consider this, particularly during the winter months.”