This article is written by Melanie Eager and is taken from the upcoming Great Health Guide (April 2016 – issue 10).
Great Health: Vitamin D & Sunlight written by Melanie Eager
Did you know that nearly a third of adults over 25 years of age living in Australia are Vitamin D deficient? A 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology showed that those highest at risk of deficiency included non-Europeans, those that were obese or physically inactive, women and the elderly.
Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to ultra-violet light (UVB) from the sun. The body then converts a cholesterol derivative into Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium, necessary to maintain healthy bones and muscle function. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends being out in the sun for a 5-20 minutes each day when UV levels are less than 3. It suggests that exposure to the sun early in the morning or late in the afternoon is the best time for Vitamin D production, when UV levels are at their lowest. It is great if this can be when you are exercising or gardening.
However only small amounts can be obtained from a dietary source, in foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), eggs and fortified in certain foods such as orange juice.
Vitamin D deficiency:
Low levels of Vitamin D can contribute to softer bones (osteopenia) which can lead to bones becoming brittle and fragile (osteoporosis). Studies have also shown that low levels of vitamin D and calcium may be related to diabetes, cancer and heart disease. There is also evidence that in areas where people have greater sun exposure, there are fewer cases of colon cancer and fewer deaths from colon, breast and prostate cancer. The evidence is inconclusive however, as there may be other factors which influence these findings.
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Vitamin D deficiency is hard to diagnose but general signs include fatigue, weakness, excessive forehead sweating, feeling irritable and depressed. More severe symptoms include general aching of bones. If you experience any of these symptoms, consider going to your GP for a check-up. Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement and the dose required depends on your current blood levels and bone density scans.
The balance between safe sun exposure and vitamin D production:
Sunscreen can inhibit the ability of UVB radiation to penetrate the skin, thereby causing a decreased production of vitamin D. It is therefore important to find a balance between safe sun exposure and vitamin D production. However, studies have shown that even whilst using sunscreen, some UVB radiation is still able to pass through the sunscreen. Ultra-violet light is recognised as an environmental carcinogen and 2 out of 3 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. The Cancer Council of Australia reports that between
95 – 99% of skin cancers are caused by too much sun exposure. They recommend the use of sunscreen if UV levels are greater than 3 and for long exposure to the sun. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours for best protection.
So don’t forget The Cancer Council of Australia’s suggestion of slip-slop-slap-seek-slide:
1. Slip on sun protective clothing to cover your skin
2. Slop on sunscreen (water resistant and SPF 30+). Remember to reapply every 2 hours
3. Slap on a hat to protect your face, head, neck and ears
4. Seek some shade
5. Slide on some sunglasses
With Vitamin D deficiency so widespread in the community, it is important to understand the significance of vitamin D in the prevention of disease and the simple way in which this deficiency can be remedied.
There is a balance between sufficient sun exposure to produce Vitamin D for healthy bones and the risk of skin cancer, if sun exposure is too great. So remember ‘slip-slop-slap-seek-slide’!
Author of this article:
Melanie Eager is a nutritionist and wellness coach with a passion for helping you live life to your full potential. Melanie has two science degrees from the University of London. Now based in Australia and with nearly 20 years working in a corporate science environment, Melanie is well placed to guide you through the maze of health and wellness choices so that you too can be Eager for Life. For more information, contact Melanie through her website.
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