Are you confused about sun safe messages? Do you wonder why every other person seems to be low in Vitamin D?
These issues are closely related and we’re here to make sense of increasingly complex information.
Australians have some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world, yet about one third of our population is low in Vitamin D. We need to be clear on how to reduce our risk of skin cancer and increase our Vitamin D levels.
Sun safe messages
The sun safe messages are straightforward. Reduce direct exposure to sunlight through barriers such as clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses (to prevent sun-related eye damage) and avoid direct exposure by staying in the shade. Understandably it starts to get confusing when knowing how to balance this message, with the need to get some sun to keep your Vitamin D at adequate levels.
Why be concerned about Vitamin D levels?
New research about Vitamin D has clearly shown it’s important to maintain bone and muscle health by regulating calcium and phosphate levels. Low Vitamin D may cause bone problems such as osteoporosis and rickets in children.
Less clear is how low Vitamin D contributes to depression, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other conditions.
One major new study found low Vitamin D levels are present after these conditions have developed, therefore low Vitamin D may not be the cause. It appears these conditions may interfere with the absorption of Vitamin D.
How to increase your Vitamin D levels
To get enough Vitamin D you need brief exposure to the sun on most days. The amount of time is reliant on many factors – always check with your doctor or specialist for guidelines on optimal sun exposure.
Points to remember
- A yearly blood test is the best way to monitor your Vitamin D levels
- Adults need a level of 50nmol/L or above at the end of winter (10-20nmol/L higher at the end of summer)
- Most of our Vitamin D comes from the sun and a small amount from food – and supplements (if required)
- As we age we don’t produce Vitamin D as well and may need supplements – see your doctor
Why there are differences in skin colour?
Interestingly, it is also considered the need for vitamin D is an explanation for skin colour variation. As humans moved from sunshine rich environments to the sunlight reduced Europe, they experienced bone softening and began to reduce the amount of melanin to facilitate vitamin D uptake.
Are there other ways to get vitamin D?
We get about 10% of our Vitamin D from fortified foods but 90% from sun exposure. Therefore we must find a way to get some exposure.
Who is more at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
- more than 50% of women during winter to spring, then in people residing in southern states
- people who are not regularly exposed to the sun such as the elderly with reduced mobility, office workers and people who cover their skin
- persons 60 years+
- those with dark skin
- persons affected by conditions which inhibit vitamin D metabolism and storage
- obese persons
- infants born to a mother with low vitamin D
Article by Jean Hailes Nurse Educator, Rhonda Garad.