Suddenly, vitamin D is everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except in our bodies. Newspaper headlines, TV programmes and consumer mags have all been trumpeting the message that, as a sunshine and oily-fish-deprived nation, loads of us are vitamin D deficient.
This topic has been bubbling along for some time, but has now boiled over since Public Health England (PHE) announced that everyone over the age of five should be taking a daily supplement from October to March each year.
I must admit that I have some reservations about this. Outside of the grossest deficiencies causing obvious clinical manifestations – rickets and osteomalacia, in other words – the evidence that a lack of vitamin D is harmful is somewhat fuzzy. Certainly, my experience of treating vitamin D deficiency has been disappointing – it’s become a very common prescription in recent years, and I can only remember one patient who actually felt better for taking it.
And when you look at the prevalence figures, maybe we should consider redefining what we mean by abnormal, and adjusting treatment thresholds, rather than medicalising the nation.
But I have a GP-centric anxiety, too. Come October – as you’ll appreciate, not the quietest month in primary care – I really don’t want a heap of extra consultations to discuss the whys and wherefores of vitamin D, or simply to provide prescriptions for those who are charge-exempt and can get their treatment free.
So pharmacists, could you help us out on this one? Set yourself up as the vitamin D experts. I’m sure you’d do a better job than me. And direct your customers to the brand of your choice with the message that this isn’t something they should expect on the NHS (ie keep away from your GP). After all, PHE’s advice was "consider", remember?
Thanks. Your reward? I’ll buy you lunch. Fancy sitting out in the sun with a rollmop herring?