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Experts call for actions to combat widespread European vitamin D deficiencies

October 15, 2014

According to a new review, a greater vitamin D fortification of foods and supplementation can help to tackle vitamin D deficiencies that remain prevalent across Europe.

The review concluded that in recent years, there have been many reports suggesting a high prevalence of low vitamin D intakes and vitamin D deficiency or inadequate vitamin D status in Europe (1). Coupled with growing concern about the health risks associated with low vitamin D status, this has resulted in increased interest in the topic of vitamin D from healthcare professionals, the media and the public. Adequate vitamin D status plays a key role in skeletal health. Prevention of the well-described vitamin D deficiency disorders of rickets and osteomalacia are clearly important, but there may also be an implication of low vitamin D status in bone loss, muscle weakness and falls and fragility fractures in older people, and these are highly significant public health issues in terms of morbidity, quality of life and costs to health services in Europe.

Although there is no agreement on optimal plasma levels of vitamin D, it is apparent that blood 25-hydroxy-vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels are often below recommended ranges for the general population and are particularly low in some subgroups of the population, such as those in institutions or who are housebound and non-Western immigrants, the experts stated. Reported estimates of vitamin D status within different European countries show large variation. However, comparison of studies across Europe is limited by their use of different methodologies. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency [often defined as plasma 25(OH)D below 25 nmol/l] may be more common in populations with a higher proportion of at-risk groups, and/or that have low consumption of foods rich in vitamin D (naturally rich or fortified) and low use of vitamin D supplements.

The definition of an adequate or optimal vitamin D status is key in determining recommendations for a vitamin D intake that will enable satisfactory status to be maintained all year round, including the winter months, the scientists said. In most European countries, there seems to be a shortfall in achieving current vitamin D recommendations. An exception is Finland, where dietary survey data indicate that recent national policies that include fortification and supplementation, coupled with a high habitual intake of oil-rich fish, have resulted in an increase in vitamin D intakes, but this may not be a suitable strategy for all European populations. The ongoing standardization of measurements in vitamin D research will facilitate a stronger evidence base on which policies can be determined. These policies may include promotion of dietary recommendations, food fortification, vitamin D supplementation and judicious sun exposure, but should take into account national, cultural and dietary habits. For European nations with supplementation policies, it is important that relevant parties ensure satisfactory uptake of these particularly in the most vulnerable groups of the population.

References

  1. Spiro A. and Buttriss J. L. Vitamin D: An overview of vitamin D status and intake in Europe. Nutrition Bulletin. Published online October 2014.