ALL Scots should take vitamin D supplements because of the health implications of a lack of bright sunshine, according to experts.

An advisory body set up by the UK Government said the bleak British weather is stopping much of the population from receiving healthy amounts of the essential vitamin from sunlight - and natural food sources alone are not enough to boost levels.

The independent Scientific Advisory Body on Nutrition (SACN) made the recommendation after studying the links between vitamin D levels and a range of health problems, including musculoskeletal health, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Current government advice is that at-risk groups, including pregnant women, children up to the age of five, adults over 65, and people with darker skin as well those who do not expose their skin to sunlight, should take a daily vitamin D supplement.

However, if SACN's draft recommendations are adopted it could lead to new guidance affecting the whole population.

The change in advice was welcomed by campaigning group Scots Need Vitamin D, which said GPs should be encouraged to prescribe supplements to all Scots.

Dr Helga Rhein, an Edinburgh GP who runs the organisation, said: "I'm happy that it is now 'official' that for all of us living in the UK it is recommended to take vitamin D supplements.

"But the recommended size of supplement is far too little for adults. 400 International Units (IU, or 10 mcg) is all right for babies but not for bigger, older people.

"While SACN pointed out that people with the highest risk are those with dark skin types, the elderly and those who cover themselves for religious reasons, there was too little mention of our northern Scottish climate which puts all people living in Scotland into the high-risk category."

SACN's experts include Professor Paul Haggarty, head of nutrition and epigenetics at Aberdeen University's Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health and Professor Angus Walls, director of the Edinburgh Dental Institute.

Dr Rhein said she believed the Scottish Government should encourage GPs to prescribe a daily doze of at least 2,000IU or 3,000IU of vitamin D to all patients.

She said: "For several years our GP practice has been prescribing vitamin D supplements to all our patients in adequate doses. We have seen good results, especially in cancer survival, and in reducing colds and depression.

"In Scotland it is particularly important to let young parents know. Pregnant women, babies, children and teenagers should take it to help prevent development of multiple sclerosis.

"We are unfortunately genetically predisposed to MS and one of the environmental factors, on top of the genetic make-up, leading to MS is lack of vitamin D."

Dr Adrian Martineau, an expert on vitamin D's effect on health at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the new advice marked a "sea change" in thinking.

He said: "Before this, the general assumption was that adults were able to make all the vitamin D they needed from sunshine, and didn't need to have any dietary or supplementary intake.

"The action of sunlight on the skin in the UK is highly variable for different populations depending on the time of year and the latitude - you'll get more UVB in Brighton than in John O'Groats - and finally, how much skin is exposed and the colour of skin.

"SACN was right to say that we can't rely on sunshine in the UK to meet the vitamin D requirements. That's a major and important change. It's a big step forward that this is now officially recognised."