Vitamin D: general advice
In Scotland it's important that we all get enough 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.
Vitamin D supplements advice
Vitamin D supplements may state the amount in micrograms (µ) or international units (IU). 1 microgram (1µ) of vitamin D is the same as 40 international units (IU). 10 micrograms (µ) equates to 400 international units (IU).
Everyone (including children) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (10µ) of vitamin D (400 IU), particularly during the winter months (October to 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
- 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 to 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.
Additional 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 (340 to 400 IU) of vitamin D to make sure they get enough
- as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D, formula-fed babies should not be given a vitamin D supplement until they are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day
- children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D (400 IU)
You can buy vitamin D supplements or vitamin drops containing vitamin D (for under 5s) at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Please do not buy more than you need.
We, the Scottish Government, provide free vitamin D to all infants and children up to 3 years old.
The next chapter of this guide includes information for parents of babies and young infants.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women
Healthy Start vitamins, which contain Vitamin D, are available free to all pregnant women in Scotland.
Free vitamin D supplements are also available for mothers who breastfeed, in addition to infants and children up to 3 years old.
Ask your midwife or health visitor for further information.
Where to get vitamin D supplements
Breastfeeding women and children up to 3 years old in Scotland can get free Vitamin D supplements containing the recommended daily amount. Please contact your midwife, family nurse or health visitor for more information.
You can buy Vitamin D supplements from most supermarkets, pharmacies or online. Please do not buy more than you need.
If you are not sure whether you are at risk, or do not know which supplements to take, ask your clinician, pharmacist, midwife or health visitor for further information.
Too much vitamin D from supplements may be harmful
Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause excess calcium to build up in the body, and this can weaken bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.
For most people, 10 micrograms (400 IU) per day is enough and is safe.
- adults and children over 11 should avoid daily high dose vitamin D supplements containing more than 100 micrograms (4000 IU)
- children aged 1 to 10 years should avoid supplements with more than 50 micrograms (2000 IU)
- infants under 12 months should have no more than 25 micrograms a day (1000 IU)
Some people have certain medical conditions which mean they may not be able to safely take as much. You should seek advice from your clinician if you have any doubts.
If your clinician has advised you to take a different amount of vitamin D, you should follow their advice.
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.
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