The UK’s Food Standards Agency has issued precautionary advice on the level of vitamin A in the diet for people who eat liver regularly and those at risk of osteoporosis.

This follows a review of the dietary evidence on vitamin A undertaken by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published today [Wednesday]. 

The FSA asked SACN to look at advice on vitamin A after experts highlighted, in May 2003, evidence that suggested that high intakes over many years may increase the risk of osteoporosis in later life.

SACN concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a link between bone health and vitamin A intakes to justify a change in dietary advice to all consumers; but, as a precaution, people who eat liver regularly (more than once a week) should not increase this amount and should avoid taking vitamin A supplements.

The SACN said it may also be advisable for people at risk of osteoporosis to not consume more than 1.5mg of vitamin A per day.

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As a precaution the FSA said it is advising that people who eat liver or liver products, such as pâté, every week should not increase this any further. This is because liver is a particularly rich source of vitamin A, containing much higher amounts than other foods. For people who only eat liver occasionally, eating more than one portion a week would not be cause for concern, because the risk relates to regular consumption over many years.

The FSA is also advising women who have been through the menopause and men over 65 years, who are more at risk of osteoporosis, to avoid having more than 1.5mg of vitamin A per day. This means eating liver or liver products no more than once a week. People at risk of osteoporosis should also avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A, including fish liver oils.

Advice for women who are pregnant or thinking of having a baby remains unchanged – they should avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A and avoid eating liver or liver products due to the fact that large amounts of vitamin A can harm an unborn baby.

The SACN report also noted that inadequate intakes of vitamin D might increase the adverse effects of high vitamin A levels on bone health. We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight on our skin. Therefore, people who have limited exposure to sunlight, such as older people who are housebound or people from ethnic communities who wear concealing clothing, might be more at risk from the effects of high vitamin A intakes.