The vitamin D industry has been boosted by a rush of press highlighting the dangers of deficiency in the nutrient sometimes called the ?sunshine vitamin'. A spate of research has shown how damaging a vitamin D deficiency can be — from bone thinning to oral disease, diabetes, mood disorders and rickets.
While the most readily touted solutions are greater exposure to sunlight or increased consumption of oily fish and dairy products, other solutions are gaining attention. The mandatory fortification of milk and breakfast cereals is a route many countries have embraced.
Supplementation is another obvious alternative, especially in northern hemisphere climates where direct sunlight is sporadic. Along with stand-alone vitamin D supplements, there are many multivitamin options, as well as combo products.
"Vitamin D deficiency is a recognised problem in certain populations," said Ric Hobby, managing director of supplements maker Herbalife Europe. "This kind of research is beneficial to the industry, although we haven't used it in our marketing as yet, mainly because it is our policy not to use scientific evidence as marketing tools."
While the elderly and dark-skinned populations are two groups with higher-than-average rates of deficiency, post-menopausal women are the most at risk; more than half are vitamin D deficient regardless of age, latitude or season.
Another study of nearly 3,000 women in 18 countries found vitamin D deficiency levels of 64 per cent (69 per cent for winter recruits), despite 37 per cent of subjects taking 400IU vitamin D supplements. A US study found more than 90 per cent of women over 70 don't get enough vitamin D.
In Europe, Danish and UK governments have launched campaigns to encourage women to take more vitamin D supplements, while in the US, the American Academy of Dermatology Association has stated it is healthier to gain vitamin D from a supplement than by spending more time in the sun or in tanning salons, because of the associated skin cancer risks, especially in the elderly whose bodies manufacture vitamin D less efficiently.