Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is important for bone, teeth and muscle health.

Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight. In Scotland, we only get enough of the right kind of sunlight for our bodies to make vitamin D between April and September, mostly between 11am and 3pm.

From October to March, we need to get vitamin D from our food and supplements. Since vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, it might be difficult to get enough from food alone.

Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • oily fish – such as salmon, herring and mackerel
  • red meat and offal - such as liver and kidney
  • egg yolks
  • fortified cereals, soya products and spreads

Supplements

Everyone in Scotland should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D particularly during the winter months.

Between April and September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. They might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

There are some groups of people that are at higher risk of having low levels of vitamin D (deficiency). These people should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms vitamin D throughout the year.

This includes:

  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • infants and children under 5 years old
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, are housebound, stay indoors for long periods or live in a care home
  • people from minority ethnic groups with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and south Asian origin, who require more sun exposure to make as much vitamin D

Pregnant women

Healthy Start vitamins, which contain vitamin D, are available free to all pregnant women in Scotland. 

Free vitamin D supplements are also available for mothers who breastfeed, as well as for infants and children up to 3 years old.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for further information. 

Babies and young children

Breastfed babies from birth up to 1 year old should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Babies who are fed infant formula don't need any vitamin drops unless they are drinking less than 500ml of formula milk a day. This is because their formula has vitamin D already added to it.

Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Staying safe in the sun

In Scotland, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is safe for all. After sunscreen is correctly applied, your body won't make any more vitamin D.

Staying in the sun for prolonged periods without the protection of sunscreen increases the risk of skin cancer.

Sun beds are not a recommended source of vitamin D.

Other languages and formats

Last updated:
27 April 2022

Also on NHS inform