Given the high rates of skin cancer in Australia, it’s surprising to learn that nearly one third of Australian adults have a vitamin D deficiency, according to a Deakin University study.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health, and a lack of vitamin D can play a part in a number of serious conditions, so keeping your levels at their optimum is a must all year round.
What is Vitamin D and why I need it?
Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin but a hormone produced by your body when UV radiation from the sun hits your skin.
It's your body's only source of calcitrol (activated vitamin D), the most potent steroid hormone in the body.
It helps your body to absorb calcium from the food you eat, which is incredibly important for developing and maintaining healthy bones and muscles.
What happens if I don’t get enough Vitamin D?
Low vitamin D levels can increase your risk of developing bone and muscle conditions, as well as a range of other health problems including:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Rickets (soft, weakened bones) in children
- Multiple sclerosis
- Various types of cancers
- Heart disease
- Mental health conditions
- Worse outcomes in strokes
- Altered immunity and other autoimmune diseases
How can I get Vitamin D?
Although vitamin D is present in small quantities in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, egg yolk, shitake mushrooms and vitamin D-fortified foods like margarine and some dairy products, you can typically only get 10% of your required amount from dietary sources alone.
The best way to increase your vitamin D levels is to go out and enjoy the sunshine, in particular UVB radiation.
In summer, according to the Cancer Council, most people will get all the vitamin D they need with just a few minutes of sun exposure in the morning or afternoon (avoiding the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense). During winter, you’re likely to need longer.
In fact, in the southern states where UV levels are comparatively low, you should be aiming for two to three hours of sun exposure every week.
Make it an excuse to go for a couple of leisurely walks on the weekend!
Although you need exposure to the sun to make vitamin D, you mustn’t forget that UV radiation is one of the main causes of skin cancer.
Most Australians need sun protection when the UV index is 3 or higher.
When is the best time to go out in the sun?
The SunSmart UV Alert, a joint initiative between Cancer Council Australia and the Federal Government, lets you know when the UV level is forecast to reach 3 or above, which is when most Australians need sun protection.
Smartphone users can get their daily Alert by downloading the free SunSmart app, or you can check the weather section of your daily newspaper, the Bureau of Meteorology website at www.bom.gov.au, or some radio and television weather forecasts.
How much sun exposure is enough?
Osteoporosis Australia recommends the following levels of sun exposure, depending on where you are in Australia and your skin type:
- For moderately fair skin types, 5-10 minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun on the face, arms and hands or equivalent area of skin in summer, and 7-30 minutes of midday sun in winter.
- For darker skin types, 15-60 minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun on the face, arms or hands or equivalent area of skin in summer, and 20 minutes-3 hours of midday sun in winter.