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The Sunshine Vitamin: Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

The sun is shining; the sky is blue and our summer has finally graced us with its presence! So, now is the time to stockpile your vitamin D and ensure you soak up a good amount, both safely and effectively…before it disappears again.

Why is vitamin D important? Vitamin D is essential for a healthy body. It’s important in many aspects from your bones to muscle function, immune responses to growth. The vitamin’s job is to assist the body to process calcium and phosphorus, and can also help to prevent some cancers by regulating normal cellular differentiation.

However, a recent nationwide survey discovered that 47%[1] of the British population is deficient in the much needed vitamin. Other reports have suggested the disease rickets is making a comeback; which was last rife in the Victorian era.

So why aren’t people getting enough? The answer is partly to do with…geography!

Professor Bouloux, professor of endocrinology from The London Clinic comments; “From October to April, 90% of the UK lies above the latitude that permits adequate exposure to sunlight necessary for vitamin D synthesis.”

So, other than moving to Italy, what can be done?

A healthy diet is a good start, but is not always enough. Whilst sunscreen is an important summer essential, this can also block the body from receiving much needed vitamin D.  It is imperative to wear sunscreen to protect the body against the sun’s harmful rays and to counteract the risk of skin cancer; however, can a compromise be sought?

Dr William Marshall, biochemist and clinical director of pathology at The London Clinic states that in order for your body to manufacture vitamin D; “You need to get out in the heat of the day, say in your lunch break, exposing your face and arms for around 20 minutes, three times a week, without sun cream. Outside the hours of 11pm to 3pm the sun won’t be strong enough.”

As for fears of skin cancer, he says: “There is a big difference between the amount of exposure you need to make vitamin D and that which will cause burning and increase your risk of skin cancer.”

If you burn quickly, the time you spend without sunscreen can be reduced, or a hat should be worn. A short sharp exposure to the sun can allow you to soak up some extra vitamin D and ensure your levels remain at a healthier level throughout the winter. Vitamin D3 tablets might also be beneficial, as they help to keep your bones healthy.  Failing that, a nice winter trip to the Maldives won’t hurt!

[1] Hyppönen E and Power C. Hypovitaminosis D in British adults at age 45:

Nationwide cohort study of dietary and lifestyle predictors.

Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:860-8

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