Most people do not need food supplements – their diets provide all the nutrients they need. However, there are some exceptions.
- Most people do not need food supplements – their diets provide all the nutrients they need
- Vitamin D and folic acid are the exceptions.
- Don’t mix supplements with medicines without speaking to your health professional
- Eat a balanced diet – supplements cannot substitute for a good diet
Vitamin D is needed for strong healthy bones. We can make vitamin D in our skin through exposure to sunlight from March to September each year. Vitamin D can also be found in certain foods – oily fish, eggs and fortified foods.
Exposure to strong sunlight is not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer. So, foods rich in vitamin D or a supplement are needed. This is particularly important in autumn and winter months.
Who needs to take a vitamin D supplement?
From birth to 12 months, babies need a supplement providing 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 every day if they are:
- taking less than 300mls or 10 fluid oz (ounces) of infant formula a day
You do not need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement if they are fed more than 300mls or 10 fluid oz (ounces) of infant formula a day. This is because infant formula has vitamin D added during processing.
Children aged 1 to 4 should be given 5 micrograms of vitamin D as a supplement every day from Halloween (31 October) to St Patrick’s Day (17 March).
People aged 65 and older should take a vitamin D supplement of 15 micrograms every day. This can be taken as:
- A multi-vitamin supplement that contains 15 microgram (15μg) of vitamin D
- A calcium and vitamin D supplement that contains 15 microgram (15μg) of vitamin D
- A vitamin D only supplement that contains 15 microgram (15μg) of vitamin D
If you have been prescribed a vitamin D supplement at a dose higher than 15 micrograms from a healthcare professional, you should continue to take the supplement at the prescribed dose. Talk to your healthcare professional if you are unsure.
All people who could become pregnant, including those taking contraception, should take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day.
If you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, are overweight or have a history of neural tube defects (NTDs) in your family or your partners, we suggest you speak to a medical professional for more advice. You may need to take a higher dose.
All adults need 200 micrograms of folic acid a day. We can get this from foods like:
- green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli and cabbage
- peas, beans and lentils including chickpeas and kidney beans
- wholegrains including wheat bran, wholegrain rice and oats
- foods fortified with folic acid
It isn’t possible for people who could become pregnant to get an extra 400 micrograms from their diet, so they need a supplement.
Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body to make red blood cells and DNA. Taking folic acid can help prevent certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, known as NTDs. One third of women are not getting enough folic acid to protect against NTDs.
For further information see the HSE website: