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How much sunshine for adequate

vitamin D?

                                       August 2010  

Vitamin D

How much sunshine for adequate vitamin D?

vitamin DIt is difficult. First we are told sunlight is bad for us, causing ageing skin and cancer; then we are told that more than half the UK population is suffering from a deficiency of vitamin D, a vitamin mostly made by exposure to sunlight!

As with most things, the middle course is clearly the best to take. Everyone should know that getting sunburnt can be dangerous and is definitely not a good idea. However, gently acclimatizing oneself to exposure to the sun and ensuring we all spend adequate lengths of time outside is very important for lots of reasons including the fact that vitamin D is important for good health, for growth and for strong bones.

The trouble is that vitamin D, unlike other essential vitamins, is not readily available from the food we eat. Even foods that do contain vitamin D, foods like oily fish, liver, egg yolks, mushrooms and some cheeses, only provide a small amount and the main source of vitamin D is made in our skin with the help of sunlight.

It is the UVB rays from the sun that help us create vitamin D. Interestingly darker skinned people need more sun to obtain the same levels of vitamin D as a fair-skinned person. Generally the sunlight needs to fall directly onto bare skin, through a window doesn’t have the same effect. One recommendation is that people should be outside with bare arms for half an hour two to three times a week. You don’t need to sunbathe during this time; it is simply a case of exposing enough skin to sunlight and you can get good UVB rays even in cloudy conditions. This exposure will produce the chemical changes needed to provide adequate levels of vitamin D.

These chemical changes include processes that occur in the liver and then the kidney which produce calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D. Calcitriol helps calcium and phosphorus to be absorbed from the gut and are essential in the structure and strength of our bones. There are other reports that suggest vitamin D plays a role in preventing cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

It is possible to have a blood test to check your vitamin D levels. This test measures the level of a chemical called 25 hydrozy-vitamin D, and a normal level is above 50 nmol/L. Levels less than 25 nmol/L mean you have a vitamin D deficiency.

In severe cases, a doctor might recommend a single small injection of vitamin D. This will last for about six months and can be useful in certain conditions; but generally all most of us need to do is to ensure we roll up our sleeves and get outside for half an hour two or three times a week.


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