Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in Scotland with around 80 per cent of the Scottish population thought to be deficient, a recent gathering at the Scottish Parliament heard.
Dr Helga Rhein, a GP at the Sighthill health centre in Edinburgh, shared this statistic and said it is “unethical” not to inform Scots of the risks and prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D, which is produced in a person’s skin when exposed to the sun or taken in from certain foods or supplements, is important for healthy bones and muscles. Deficiency can give rise to bone problems, such as rickets in children and has also been put forward as a possible explanation for the high levels of multiple sclerosis in Scotland.
The recent Shine on Scotland campaign, led by teenager, Ryan Mclaughlin, sought to educate the public and governments of the importance of Vitamin D in combating MS. Mclaughlin, whose mother has MS, spoke eloquently in numerous articles and broadcasts and led a 350-strong march to the Scottish Parliament where he handed over a petition calling on the Government to provide Vitamin D to Scotland’s children and pregnant mothers.
But the issue is even more widespread, Rhein argued, as she called for the Scottish public to be made more aware of its importance to our health and wellbeing.
Rhein said it is a “shame” on our public health departments that we have rickets in Scotland.
She feels it would help if GPs were more actively encouraged to prescribe Vitamin D supplements.
The Chief Medical Officers for the UK sent a joint letter to health professionals earlier this year in a bid to increase awareness of this important issue and restate their current advice. The letter stated the importance for public health of avoiding low levels of Vitamin D. It also explained that women and children eligible for the Government’s Healthy Start scheme can get free vitamin supplements, including Vitamin D, while NHS organisations can also choose to sell the vitamins or supply them free of charge to those who are not eligible, adding, “we encourage this”.
When this was raised, however, Rhein replied that it was her experience that GPs are being discouraged from prescribing Vitamin D.
Furthermore, she argued current recommendations do not go far enough. Every Scottish adult needs 2,000-3,000 International Units of Vitamin D daily, she said, but the UK health authorities recommend just 400 – enough for a small baby but not an adult in Scotland, she added.
Rhein, supported by journalist Lesley Riddoch, will meet CMO Dr Harry Burns this month to discuss the need for a Scottish strategy on Vitamin D. Riddoch echoed Rhein’s concerns at the meeting and urged the MSPs present to act. With one in three Scots “severely” Vitamin D deficient, she said this is an “urgent” problem and Scotland simply can’t afford to wait any longer.