Every adult in Ireland should start taking vitamin D supplements due to alarming levels of deficiency in the State, a new Oireachtas report says.
Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to worse health outcomes in relation to Covid-19, and this is why the issue needs to be addressed urgently, according to the report.
Elderly people, those who are overweight and people who belong to an ethnic minority are more at risk of deficiency, and targeted measures are needed to combat this, the report warns.
The Oireachtas Health Committee’s report, published today, outlines a number of public health measures that need to be taken to raise vitamin D levels among the general population.
The report recommends that every adult in Ireland should start taking vitamin D supplements.
It was also discovered that 47 per cent of people aged 18-39 are deficient in the vitamin. Thirty-five per cent of 50-59 year olds are also deficient.
However, the older population and people who have a darker skin tone are most at risk of deficiency.
Sixty-four per cent of over 80s and more than 67 per cent of nursing home residents are deficient.
Ninety-three per cent of people in the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community in Ireland are also deficient.
Lack of sunlight
It is believed that Ireland’s lack of sunlight, especially UVB rays, as well as longer working hours indoors, contribute to this deficiency.
Residents of nursing homes also spend limited time outdoors, especially during Covid times when they are shielding.
The report says that vitamin D supplementation of 20-25 micrograms per day should be recommended to the entire adult population, and higher doses should be recommended for vulnerable groups under medical supervision.
Reducing the cost of vitamin D supplements should also be considered, according to the report. This should be done through a reduction or elimination of the VAT rate on the supplement.
Vulnerable groups, such as those in nursing homes or prisons, as well as frontline healthcare workers should receive vitamin D supplementation on an opt-out basis, the report says.
The report also suggests that people should be offered vitamin D supplements when attending Covid-19 test centres.
In Finland, where foods fortified with Vitamin D are widely available, there were less deaths associated with Covid-19 compared with its European counterparts. Preliminary studies suggest it may be linked to the high levels of vitamin D among its population.
Prof John Faul works in Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown and he contributed to the report.
“I’ve gone to the ICUs, where, I can tell you, it’s very upsetting going to people who are on ventilators and telling their families they are really in trouble. Many have died.
“We did massive profiling of these people, in terms of their immune systems and biologic situation. The only thing that was really sticking out was vitamin D deficiency.
“Their average vitamin D levels were 27. This was the first wave. These people had never been sick before, they had never been to doctors. That is why we need public health messaging.”
The consultant in respiratory and sleep medicine says that the level of vitamin D present in food is not enough, and Irish people need to take actual supplements.
Dr Faul adds that during the second wave of the pandemic, he saw high numbers of people in ICU with vitamin D deficiency again. “Their levels were in their low 20s. We thought the message had got out there, but clearly people are not taking enough of the supplements.”