Vitamin Sunshine (Vitamin D)
We all think of getting our vitamin D when we are out in the sun, but what is its importance to health, and who is at risk of deficiency?
Vitamin D is the only vitamin whereby we cannot meet our requirements from dietary intake alone. In fact there is very little in food sources. Small amounts can be found in oily fish (e.g. wild salmon, mackerel), products fortified with vitamin D, and mushrooms. The main source is direct sunlight!
Soak up those sunrays
As we are now in the deep of winter in NZ, it is important between the months of May to August to try and get sun exposure each day. Around midday is best, with exposure to the face, hands and arms if temperatures allow! Sitting inside in the sun is counterproductive as the UVB required for the metabolic process of generating vitamin D cannot occur. If you are at higher altitudes, such as skiing, ensure you wear sunscreen, and if you have a history of skin cancer, always wear sunscreen. As important as sun exposure is, being sun smart is crucial. So like most aspects of health, balance is key. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in NZ and too much exposure without adequate protection, particularly in the summer months, can be very damaging to the skin (and also leads to wrinkles!).
People at risk of vitamin D deficiency include:
– People who are predominantly indoors, e.g. work, long-stay hospitalisation, institutions.
– People who avoid the sun e.g. history of skin cancer, photosensitising medications, fair skin.– People with malabsorption syndromes.
In summary, if you are worried about deficiency, talk to your doctor. They may suggest a supplement under medical guidance if deemed appropriate. There is a lot of conflicting evidence surrounding vitamin D and its other potential involvement in metabolic disturbances, infections, inflammation, and sports performance as well as discrepancy surrounding a universally defined level for deficiency. Vitamin D definitely needs further research, but there is plenty of exciting work being undertaken, so watch this space!