Vitamin D deficiency is on the increase. In fact, according to some reports, a quarter of all toddlers are deficient in this vitamin. It plays several important roles in the body, including regulating the balance of nutrients needed for strong, healthy bones.
The majority of people will get enough vitamin D by eating a healthy diet, including foods like oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals, as well as from direct sunlight. But some groups of people are more at risk of developing vitamin D deficiency.
Deficiency can lead to rickets in young children. In Liverpool this year there have already been several cases of the condition diagnosed. There are now calls for health professionals to prescribe supplements to at-risk groups and be alert in diagnosing people with deficiency.
In Liverpool, the NHS has produced guidelines on the management of vitamin D deficiency. The work is being led by Liverpool PCT, Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust and local GPs. They are working with NHS Trusts and agencies across the city to raise awareness about vitamin D deficiency and to advise on the most effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat it.
Dr Katy Gardner, a GP for Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust, is coordinating the work surrounding vitamin D deficiency in Liverpool. She said: "We are seeing more and more cases of vitamin D deficiency being diagnosed in Liverpool and cases of rickets are also on the increase.
Rickets is a rare disease that affects bone development in children. It causes the softening and weakening of bones, which can lead to deformities, such as bowed legs and curvature of the spine. It is often the result of vitamin D deficiency. The guidelines we have produced are aimed at helping health professionals to better diagnose vitamin D deficiency and provide guidance on how we believe it should be treated."
The Department of Health recommends that the following people take daily vitamin D supplements:
· all children aged six months to five years old
· all pregnant and breastfeeding women
· all people aged 65 and over
· people who are not exposed to much sun, such as people who cover up their skin for cultural reasons or those who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
· people with darker skins such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin
Dr Gardner added: "Treatment of vitamin D deficiency is relatively simple. Prescribing vitamin D, as well as giving advice on diet and sun exposure can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent deficiency occurring in people at risk. Supplements are especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as children under the age of five. We hope by producing a clear set of guidelines GPs will treat patients earlier and before they present with more serious conditions that are a result of vitamin D deficiency."
Dianna Osayande, who works as a PA for the NHS on Merseyside was diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency whilst she was pregnant with her second child, Savannah. Here she shares her experiences and explains how she overcame it.
"I was pregnant with my second child when my vitamin D deficiency was detected. Although I was eating healthily and taking pregnancy supplements my deficiency was preventing my body from regulating the amount of calcium in my body.
"At the time I didn't know much about the deficiency and its effects so I contacted a good colleague from the PCT who was working on this issue, and she provided me with loads of information.
"I was really pleased as I found out that this is quite common in Asian people and people with dark skin and is linked to a lack of absorption of Vitamin D from sunlight.
"With the UK not being the best place to catch a ray, especially in the North, many people have to turn to vitamins. I also discovered that some of the symptoms I regularly felt could be linked to having vitamin D deficiency, symptoms such as fatigue and backache. However,it could potentially cause other more serious issues both in me and my baby. There was so much information available through the NHS, including different forms of supplements. I decided to take this seriously and saw my doctor about finding a suitable way of taking the vitamins. He was great and prescribed me with vitamin D supplements.
"I continued with these and still take them now. I have noticed a real difference in my energy levels and have no more aches and pains. I am sure this is because I'm getting my fill of calcium and vitamin D. However I am still unable to convince my doctor to prescribe me a week under the Caribbean sun for some of the real stuff!"
More information about the importance of vitamin D and how to treat it is available on NHS Choices at www.nhs.uk