Key Messages

  • Vitamin D is essential for musculoskeletal health in all age groups and is likely to be important for other aspects of health.
  • The major source of vitamin D is via exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation.
  • Most Australians obtain just 5–10 per cent of their daily vitamin D requirements from dietary sources.
  • Daily exercise also helps produce vitamin D.

Overview

This document provides key health messages to assist doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in giving advice to people about vitamin D deficiency.

It outlines population groups at risk of having low vitamin D, information about sun exposure and vitamin D, and vitamin D screening and treatment.

This guideline is intended for use in conjunction with current SunSmart policies and guidelines.

Very low vitamin D causes bone and muscle pain and poor bone mineralisation. This can result in rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Low vitamin D is also a contributor to osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Appropriate dosages of vitamin D supplements have been shown to reduce falls and fractures in older people.

More recently low vitamin D has been linked to multiple sclerosis, diabetes (type 1 and type 2), various types of cancers (particularly colon cancer), heart disease and mental health conditions including schizophrenia, all of which cause mortality including cardiovascular mortality, worse outcomes in stroke, altered immunity and other autoimmune diseases; however, more research is needed.

The major source of vitamin D is via exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation.

Most Australians obtain just 5–10 per cent of their daily vitamin D requirements from dietary sources. Other sources of vitamin D can be found in a few foods (for example, some fish, eggs and UV-irradiated mushrooms). Margarine and some types of milk have added vitamin D. Daily exercise also helps produce vitamin D.

The recently revised US recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for vitamin D are 600 IU (15 µg) daily for people aged 1–70 years and 800 IU (20 µg) daily in adults aged over 70 years. In infants aged under a year, the adequate intake is 400 IU (10 µg) daily. These RDAs assume minimal sun exposure and are intended to meet or exceed the need of 97.5 per cent of the population.