People in Britain should boost their vitamin D intake with supplements because of a lack of bright sunshine to provide it naturally, government health advisers have suggested. The British weather prevents much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight, and natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels, according to the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN).

The SACN, an independent advisory body to the government, made the recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and a range of health problems, including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Current government advice is that at-risk groups, including pregnant women, children up to the age of five, adults over 65 and people with darker skin as well as those who do not expose their skin to sunlight should take a daily vitamin D supplement. But if SACN’s draft recommendations are adopted, it could lead to new guidance affecting the whole population.

Dr Adrian Martineau, an expert on vitamin D at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the new advice marked a “sea change” in thinking. He told the Independent on Sunday: “Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn’t need to have any dietary or supplementary intake. The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude – you’ll get more UVB in Brighton than in John o’Groats – and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin.

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