Adults over the age of 65 are being advised to take a vitamin D supplement every day.
Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and some studies also suggest that it has a role to play in non-skeletal health, such as cardiovascular health, diabetes and inflammation.
It is known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced in the skin by exposing the body to sunshine. In Ireland, vitamin D can only be produced in the skin between late March and late September. It cannot be produced in winter.
The alternative to sunshine is consuming vitamin-D rich foods and/or taking a vitamin D supplement.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health requested the Scientific Committee of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to examine the vitamin D status of people over the age of 65, and to provide scientific recommendations on vitamin D supplementation.
That report from the FSAI found that older people in Ireland do not get sufficient vitamin D from their diet or the effect of sunlight on their skin. In fact, studies in Ireland recorded a high frequency of vitamin D deficiency among older adults, ranging from 10-44%, with the issue more pronounced during the winter months.
According to the Irish National Adult Nutrition Survey (2008-2010), the average daily intake of vitamin D from diet and supplements was just 5.2μg (micrograms) for men and 8.5μg for women aged 65 and older.
Based on the evidence provided in the FSAI report, the Department of Health is now providing "population health guidance for vitamin D supplementation for older people".
It is recommending that adults aged 65 and older should take a 15μg supplement every day to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D.
The department said that this supplement can be taken in three ways:
-As a multivitamin supplement that contains 15μg of vitamin D
-As a calcium and vitamin D supplement that contains 15μg of vitamin D
-As a vitamin D-only supplement that contains 15μg of vitamin D.
People who are currently taking a vitamin D supplement that has been prescribed by a doctor or a nurse and that contains more than 15μg can continue to take that supplement as prescribed.
The FSAI report also recommended that older people include regular intakes of natural sources of vitamin D in their diet, such as oily fish, eggs, meat and vitamin D-fortified foods including milk and cereals.
Meanwhile, the FSAI report also reviewed the available evidence in relation to vitamin D supplements being taken to prevent or treat COVID-19. The report acknowledged that there is limited research available and it concluded that there is no evidence so far to support taking vitamin D supplements to specifically prevent or treat COVID-19.
A vitamin D fact sheet for people over the age of 65 is available here.
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