Speaking at the BNF annual lecture, Professor Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey, warned of the impact that the deficiency could have on the population, which could lead to injuries for young people, especially athletes.
Vitamin D is important in bone health as it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.
However, it is estimated that around one in five people in the UK have low levels of Vitamin D.
The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors but, between October and early March, the UK population will simply not get enough vitamin D from sunlight, due to the sun’s strength having insufficient UV wavelength.
Lanham-New said: “There is a real need to promote more awareness of vitamin D deficiency across younger populations within the UK.
“It is established that vitamin D is beneficial for bone health and our studies demonstrate the importance of vitamin D for athletic performance within UK university students too. Good bone health ensures the consolidation of bone mass during adulthood and helps to prevent osteoporosis in later life – more attention needs to be placed on the importance of this.”
Lanham-New also discussed new research, led by Dr Andrea Darling from the University of Surrey using data from the UK Biobank, which has shown, for the first time, extensive vitamin D deficiency in over 8,000 south Asians living in the UK – the largest dataset available on vitamin D status in ethnic minority groups.
Lanham-New continued: “Such low levels of vitamin D in this population group is extremely concerning. Due to darker skin pigmentation and lower sun exposure to the skin because of differing lifestyle habits and cultural dress style, this population is particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiency, and this can lead to osteomalacia – the adult form of rickets.
“This disease presents itself through extensive bone pain, muscle ache and tiredness, and also presents a potential increased risk of diabetes. As such, ensuring an adequate intake of vitamin D through diet or supplements is essential.”
The Government currently recommends that all adults and children over five should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
“Studies looking at the use of alkaline-based potassium supplements, (for example, potassium bicarbonate/potassium citrate), which can increase dietary alkalinity, have also shown significant reductions in bone loss,” said Lanham-New. “Hence, dietary alkali supplementation or increased fruit and vegetable intake may be a beneficial strategy for improving bone health in the population, particularly for women going through the menopause when bone resorption is particularly high due to the low oestrogen levels.”