Publication - Factsheet

Vitamin D: advice for all age groups

Published: 29 Jul 2020
Last updated: 21 Oct 2020 - see all updates

Revised guidance to reflect the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

Published:
29 Jul 2020
Vitamin D: advice for all age groups

Introduction

In Scotland it is important that people maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D has a number of important functions and is needed to support bone and muscle health.

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight. In Scotland, we only get enough of the right kind of sunlight for our bodies to make vitamin D between April and September, mostly between 11 am and 3 pm. From October to March, we need to rely on dietary sources of vitamin D. Since vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, it might be difficult to get enough from foods that naturally contain vitamin D and/or fortified foods alone.

Good food sources are oily fish and eggs. Other food sources include fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and spreads. 

Our advice

Everyone (including children) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months (October – March). It is specifically recommended that groups at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency take a daily supplement all year round. These groups include:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • infants and children under 5 years old
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound, confined indoors for long periods or live in an institution such as a care home
  • people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, who require more sun exposure to make as much vitamin D

The current guidance on sun exposure should be followed: 10–15 minutes of unprotected Scottish sun exposure is safe for all. Once sunscreen is correctly applied, vitamin D synthesis is blocked. Staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.

Further guidance for babies, young children and pregnant women

Babies and young children

  • breastfed babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D to make sure they get enough
  • formula-fed babies shouldn't be given a vitamin D supplement until they're having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D
  • children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D

You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (for under 5s) at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Please don’t buy more than you need.

Read advice and support for parents to follow the recommendation for infants from birth to 6 months.

Pregnant women

Healthy Start vitamins, which contain Vitamin D, are available free to all pregnant women in Scotland. Ask your midwife or health visitor for further information.

Women and children who qualify for the Best Start Foods scheme in Scotland can get free supplements containing the recommended amounts of vitamin D. Please contact your health visitor for more information.

Availability of vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D supplements can be purchased from most supermarkets, pharmacies or online. Please don’t buy more than you need.

If you are not sure whether you are at risk or not, or do not know which supplements to take, ask your GP, pharmacist, midwife or health visitor for further information.

Too much vitamin D may be harmful

Unless your doctor has advised you differently, daily supplements at the recommended amounts will be enough. In particular, avoid daily high dose vitamin D supplements containing more than 100 micrograms for adults and children from age 11, more than 50 micrograms for children age 1-10 years, and more than 25 micrograms for infants under 12 months.

Additional resources

A general information leaflet Vitamin D and You sets out the current advice on vitamin D. This leaflet is available in English, Arabic, Polish, Traditional Chinese and Urdu and may be requested in alternative format such as large print, braille and audio versions.

Amounts of vitamin D: micrograms and international units

Vitamin D supplements may state the amount in micrograms or international units. 1 microgram of vitamin D is the same as 40 international units. 10 micrograms equates to 400 international units.

First published: 29 Jul 2020 Last updated: 21 Oct 2020 -