Over 30% of Australians have mild, moderate or severe vitamin D deficiency.
It’s a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood and is important to ensure strong bones and muscles, and is essential to maintaining overall health. Although sunshine or UV radiation is the best source of vitamin D, we also know it is the major cause of skin cancer. So how do you ensure you’re getting your vitamin D?
There is a delicate balance between reducing the risk of skin cancer and receiving adequate sun exposure to maintain vitamin D levels. Use of sun protection strategies as suggested by SunSmart and Sid Seagull (slip, slop, slap, seek, slide) won’t put you at risk of becoming deficient in vitamin D. Whilst you can absorb small amounts of vitamin D from some food sources such as fish and eggs, the best source is sunshine.Who is at risk of being vitamin D deficient?
- Naturally dark skinned people as their skin type reduces UV penetration
- People who spend a lot of time indoors or who may be hospitalised for long periods
- Breast-fed Babies and infants whose mother is vitamin D deficient
- People with particular medical conditions such as renal disease, end stage liver disease, obesity, coeliac disease, or those taking medications which can affect the metabolism of vitamin D
- People who avoid the sun due to skin cancer or high risk of skin cancer.
If these scenarios resonate with you, you may be at risk of being vitamin D deficient. If you’re concerned about your levels of vitamin D, consult your GP.
So how much sun do we need to ensure we’re maintaining the correct levels of vitamin D?
The best way to find your balance is by checking the UV levels. If they are below 3, sun protection is not generally required. Aim to spend time enjoying outdoor activities daily to support vitamin D production. If the UV level is above 3, always use sun protection and spend just a few minutes outside daily to maintain vitamin D production. These UV radiation levels change depending on the time of year, time of day, weather and location so it’s important to check the UV index regularly before you enjoy a day outdoors.
For the majority of people, adequate vitamin D can be maintained by good nutrition and incidental exposure to the sun on a regular basis. In summer months in Australia, adequate levels can be maintained with as little as a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week. For those in the southern states in winter, more time outdoors is required due to the falling UV index. For those whose winters involve high altitudes or highly reflective surfaces like snow, sun protection may be required even in winter! If the UV index is above three you should be using sun protection. This means in some parts of the country, sun protection should be used all year round.
The cancer council of Australia has produced a position statement concerning the benefits and risks of sun exposure. This statement can be accessed here. As always, speak with your general practitioner if you are concerned about your vitamin D levels. Perhaps start a discussion during your annual skin check!