Health professionals across Europe are seeing more and more cases of rickets and increasing the amount of vitamin D in food could be one way to tackle this. A new European-funded research project in Denmark entitled OPTIFORD is set to investigate new ways to add vitamin D to foods.
Vitamin D is essential for proper bone mineralisation. Children who grow rapidly and who do not regularly expose their skin to sunlight are at risk of developing rickets. Vitamin D deficiency is also common in elderly people. It is an increasing burden on health systems in Europe because it is a significant risk factor for hip fractures, which are associated with significant increases in mortality, disability and economic costs.
Sunlight and food are the two sources of vitamin D. For most people the main source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Endogenous photoconversion of 7-dehydro-cholesterol to vitamin D occurs when the skin is exposed to UV radiation. In the winter period we rely on the stores built up during the previous summer and dietary intake. Diet is a secondary source of vitamin D - foods such as fatty fish, milk products and fortified margarine contain substantial amounts of vitamin D but intake is generally well below the recommended level.
Scientists write this week that OPTIFORD aims, in the long term, to improve vitamin D status in the European population. The principal expected achievement of this project is to determine whether fortification of food with vitamin D is a feasible strategy.
The project will aim to provide new knowledge, scientific information, data and methodologies to optimise fortification strategies. Researchers at the Department of Nutrition, Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition, Soborg, are seeking to determine the lowest effective dose of vitamin D that beneficially affects calcium metabolism, to assess the impact of increased vitamin D intake on bone mass in two particular subgroups, to develop a new low-fat food fortified with vitamin D (bread) and to establish a recommendable level of fortification and/or supplementation in Europe.