Vitamin D - are you getting enough?

A lady in the sunshine
A lady in the sunshine

Recent scientific studies have made new discoveries of the medical benefit of Vitamin D and the quite striking effects that a deficiency can have.

Vitamin D is vital for assisting with the absorption of Calcium into the body which in turn promotes strong bones and prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of the bones) in adults in certain vulnerable groups.

It has major benefits for the skin in that it contributes to skin cell growth, repair and metabolism. It optimises the skins immune system and helps destroy free radicals (pollutants) causing premature ageing.

It can also be helpful in preventing type 1 and 2 diabetes and Hypertension (high blood pressure) and reduces the risk of heart disease.

It has been shown to help Seasonal Depression known as SAD syndrome by boosting beta endorphins which improves the feeling of well-being. This also helps with unexplained fatigue syndrome and has been shown to reduce cognitive impairment (confusion) in the elderly.

In addition Vitamin D in sunlight stimulates various other chemicals in the body which help to modulate the immune function to reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.

Interestingly people with skin types V (Asian) and VI (black) who live in the UK are the most likely groups to have a deficiency. This is because these skin types are very efficient at blocking the UVB rays but as a by-product also blocks the process in the skin that produces Vitamin D.

All in all the benefits of Vitamin D seem to be many so what sort of intake should we be aiming for and how best to get it?

Doctors recommend that if you are in the 50 – 70 year age group the daily intake should be 10mcg (400 IU) and the over 70’s more at 15mcg (600IU).

Food sources which can help in a moderate way with naturally occurring levels of Vitamin D include oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna. Good quality beef, cheese, egg yolks (free range preferably) fish liver oils and mushrooms.

Vitamin D is now routinely added to foods such as breakfast cereals, yogurt, orange juice, milk and margarine and again this can be moderately helpful.

However a recent study in the British Journal of Dermatology shows that by far and away the most effective way of getting adequate doses of Vitamin D is also the most natural – the sun. It involves a series of chemical reactions triggered by sun exposure .It takes between 5 and 30 minutes of sun exposure twice weekly for skin types II to III to keep Vitamin D to its optimum level. The exact amount is dependent on the strength of the sun in various seasons. It also needs to be sun exposure without SPF as this can reduce absorption by up to 95%. Protecting the face with a high SPF is still vital but leaving arms or legs exposed to moderate sun for such a small amount of time will provide the necessary boost without the risk of sun damage. Darker skin types IV to VI will need more sun exposure than fairer skin types to get the same benefits.

Also just in case you think that driving in your car on a sunny day will suffice be aware that sunlight through windows almost completely blocks UVB light so therefore it is totally ineffective at boosting Vitamin D levels.

So to conclude, a little sun exposure is extremely good for us and by far and away the most effective way of getting that all important Vitamin D boost. As long as we take care to apply good sun screen protection to our face and limit our unprotected time outside to just a few precious minutes we can get all the Vitamin D that we need. So it’s an excellent excuse to take a walk or your sandwich outside at lunchtime knowing that we are giving ourselves that all important Vitamin D boost.

It’s Mother Nature’s gift to us so let’s all enjoy it.