The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has released a report detailing scientific recommendations for achieving optimal vitamin D nutrition in people aged 5-65 years in Ireland. This publication marks the first time that vitamin D nutrition has been explored in this age group. The report highlights the importance of vitamin D in maintaining good bone health, the normal function of the immune system, and the maintenance of normal muscle function. The report also identifies vitamin D deficiency as the leading cause of bone health issues like rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
While the report acknowledges the potential health consequences of vitamin D deficiency, including links to respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory disorders, certain cancers, and infectious diseases like COVID-19, the evidence supporting these links is not yet conclusive.
The report outlines food sources that are naturally rich in vitamin D, such as oily fish, meats, and eggs, as well as vitamin D-fortified foods. It also explains how inadvertent sunlight exposure during summer contributes to vitamin D intake. However, since weaker sunlight is available in Ireland from October to March, the report recommends that everyone, particularly teenagers, pregnant women, and people of dark-skinned ethnicity, take a daily supplement of vitamin D.
For healthy children aged 5-11 years, a daily vitamin D supplement containing 10 µg (400 IU) is recommended, while healthy teenagers and adults aged 12-65 years should take a daily supplement containing 15 µg (600 IU). Pregnant women should also take a daily supplement of vitamin D, regardless of ethnicity.
Professor Kevin Cashman, Chair of the Public Health Nutrition Subcommittee that prepared the report, emphasizes the importance of not being deficient in vitamin D during certain life stages. The teenage years are a critical period for bone mineral mass gains, and during pregnancy, vitamin D is necessary for the skeletal development of the fetus and to protect the mother’s bone health. Darker-skinned individuals have higher vitamin D requirements due to the increased melanin content in their skin, which reduces the body’s ability to make vitamin D from UVB rays from sunlight.
Dr. Pamela Byrne, CEO of FSAI, highlights the importance of clarifying optimal daily doses, current dietary intake, and how Ireland can resolve this common nutrient deficiency. The report recommends using both natural food sources of vitamin D and fortified foods along with appropriate doses of vitamin D supplements to combat vitamin D deficiency.
Overall, the report will inform the Department of Health’s national guidelines on achieving optimal vitamin D nutrition in people aged 5-65 years. With the hope that these reports informing policy and practice will enable the prevention of vitamin D deficiency in Ireland in the near future.