The findings of the study demonstrate the need to reform current policies and incorporate a multi-disciplinary approach to address vitamin D deficiency. In the long run, fortifying bread with vitamin D will cut costs and prove to be more effective in solving nutrition gaps, said the researchers from the University of Birmingham.
Vitamin D is a prohormone, or a precursor of a hormone, rather than a vitamin. It plays many important roles in the body, such as:
The recommended intake of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) per day for newborns and 600 IU for older children and adults. The elderly, on the other hand, may need a higher dosage at 800 IU.
Vitamin D can be obtained by taking supplements, eating the right foods and having adequate sun exposure. When exposed to sunlight, the body can produce vitamin D.
However, certain factors may affect the amount of vitamin D the body receives and produces. Sunscreen use, air pollution, indoor lifestyle and wearing full body clothing can reduce sun exposure and lead to vitamin D deficiency.
Furthermore, factors such as skin color, poor diet and malabsorption problem can also affect the amount of vitamin D in the body.
In turn, deficiency of the hormone can lead to health conditions such as rickets, osteoporosis and bone fractures. Experts are also looking at the possible link between vitamin D and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
The researchers are looking to combat vitamin D deficiency by fortifying wheat flour with vitamin D. They proposed adding 400 IU of vitamin D per 100 grams of flour while also offering free supplements with the recommended dose for different age groups.
According to the researchers, food fortification strategies should be prioritized because they are safe and cost-effective. Supplements, on the other hand, are still a viable option for treating vitamin D deficiency but may be unsustainable and expensive. (Related: Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D can be a challenge; research suggests eating fortified foods.)
Existing policies involving supplements are already in place in the U.K., but experts say that these policies are not enough in addressing vitamin D deficiency.
"While both supplements and fortified foods are important sources of vitamin D for the U.K. population, evidence suggests current U.K. supplementation policies are not working," said Magda Aguilar, one of the researchers of the study.
Finland also used policies similar to the one the researchers are espousing. They were able to lower vitamin D deficiency from 13 percent to 0.6 percent.
In the U.K., experts estimate that 20 percent of adults and 16 percent of children aged between 11 and 18 years are deficient in vitamin D. By fortifying wheat flour, the government can prevent millions of cases and save about $72 million, said the researchers.
Given the findings, the team is hopeful that policymakers in the U.K. will look at food fortification policies to solve nutritional problems. Such policies can lead to significant benefits for the population, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.
Learn more about the effects of vitamin D deficiency at Nutrients.news.