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Vital vitamins

Vitamins are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly.

A healthy, varied diet will provide most people with all the vitamins they require. There may however be certain times in life when a multivitamin supplement may be of benefit; for example:

  • Women who are planning to become pregnant and women in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy should take a folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms per day. This is to prevent neural tube defects in the baby (e.g. spina bifida). A higher dose of folic acid is required for women who have certain medical conditions or where there is a history of neural tube defects. Your GP can advise on this.
  • Those at risk of osteoporosis e.g. elderly with poor dairy intake or little time outside in the sun etc, may need a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
  • Strict vegans may require a vitamin B12 supplement

Vitamin D

For healthy bones, children aged from one year old and all adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day. Babies from birth to one year old need between 8.5 and 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day.

Sources of Vitamin D

The body makes vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. For most Adults during spring and summer (between April and September), the action of sunlight on skin is their main source of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also found in some foods including:

  • fresh and tinned oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout kippers and sardines
  • eggs and meat
  • fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals, soya and dairy products and powdered milks (amounts in these products vary and are often quite small)
Getting enough Vitamin D

Babies should be given a daily supplement to ensure they get enough vitamin D. Babies taking more than 500ml of infant formula a day do not need any additional vitamin D as formula is fortified.

Children between one and four years old should be given a daily supplement throughout the year to ensure they get enough vitamin D.

As vitamin D is found only in a small amount of foods, it can be difficult to get enough from foods alone. To make sure you’re taking enough vitamin D, children from five years old and all adults including pregnant and breast-feeding women, should take a daily 10 microgram supplement especially in the Autumn and Winter months, between October and March.

Some groups of people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and need to take a supplement throughout the year. These groups include:

  • people who are housebound or in institutions such as care homes
  • people who usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
  • people with dark skin from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds