Could a novel UV technology help battle vitamin D deficiency?

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'We didn’t really look at vitamin D issues until the approval. Now we’re hearing about vitamin D everywhere,' says SurePure Inc. © / zoom-zoom
'We didn’t really look at vitamin D issues until the approval. Now we’re hearing about vitamin D everywhere,' says SurePure Inc. © / zoom-zoom

Related tags Vitamin d3 Vitamin d functional beverage beverage

With the spotlight on vitamin D in many European countries, one company says its recently approved novel UV milk treatment could be a way to tackle deficiency. 

According to a 2014 British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) paper​: “In 1975 there were about 250 peer-reviewed papers published with the term ‘vitamin D’ in the paper title or its abstract but 30 years later, in 2007, this number had risen to around 1600 papers, and to 3774 in 2013.”​ 

This year Sweden will expand its list​ of products subject to mandatory vitamin D fortification in an attempt to battle deficiency in the daylight-limited region.   

Meanwhile in the UK, where one in five people have 'sub-optimal' vitamin D levels, an increase in the incidence of rickets seems set to spur discussions on fortification strategies​. 

New York-based SurePure Inc says its ultra-violet (UV) treatment technology could be one way to increase vitamin D intakes and serve these new national fortification demands. 

In January the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved its novel food application​ for milk treated with the technology, which extends shelf life from the current 12 days to 21 days and increases vitamin D3 concentrations. 

The big D

The UV-C light treatment increases vitamin D3 concentrations in the milk by converting 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).  

Vitamin D3 content can be increased to 0.5–3.2 micrograms (µg) per 100 g in whole milk and 0.1–1.5 µg in semi-skimmed milk, while conventionally treated milks contain levels below detection limits.

Owner Guy Kebble said the technology – which can be applied beyond dairy to wine and juices but without this vitamin D3 effect – was initially seen as way to increase shelf life and reduce energy costs as a non-thermal process. 

“We didn’t really look at vitamin D issues until the approval. Now we’re hearing about vitamin D everywhere. We never necessarily thought vitamin D was such a big deal.”

Member states raised concerns about the application first made through British company Dairy Crest back in 2012, citing uncertainty about the impact upped D3 levels would have on population intakes.

novel milk vitamin D
Intake estimates 

Yet January’s opinion​ dispelled these concerns.

Number crunching

Based on data submitted and conservative intake estimates, EFSA concluded it was unlikely the tolerable upper intake levels for children aged 1–10 years (50 µg/day) and adolescents and adults (100 µg/day) would be exceeded.

Using the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008/2009 figures on milk consumption, vitamin D3 intakes were forecast assuming a complete switch to UV-treated milk.

Vitamin D3 intakes at the 95th percentile ranged from 9.5 to 22 μg/day in young children, 4.2 to 17.8 μg/day in adults and seven to 24.3 μg/day in the elderly. 

The highest daily vitamin D3 intake was calculated for young children aged 18 months to three years, with a daily intake of 21 µg per day at the 97.5th percentile of whole milk consumption.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) recommends 7-8.5 μg of vitamin D per day for babies and young children aged six months to five years.   

Asked if this vitamin D3 could be maintained in products containing milk, Kebble said the "short answer"​ was yes. 

"Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, [cheese, butter and cream] are concentrated especially in regards to the percentage of fat, therefore there will be an increase in vitamin D. This translates to butter and cream and to a lesser extent in cheese, there are some losses of vitamin D in cheese manufacturing, of course this is dependent on type of cheese and manufacturing process."

Expansion plans

Now the opinion has been published SurePure is looking to secure contracts in different member states.

Discussions around mandatory and voluntary vitamin D fortification could unlock opportunities for the company, Kebble said.

He said the company was in discussions with Danish dairy giant Arla.

Dairy Crest holds the exclusive rights to the technology in the UK and Ireland.

However, this is shrouded by some uncertainty given Dairy Crest sold its dairy operations to the Muller group last October to focus instead on growth in cheese, spreads operations and infant formula.  

Kebble said the company was in talks with Dairy Crest on what this might mean for its arrangement.

“We want either to continue with Dairy Crest or pass [the rights] onto someone else,” ​he said. 

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