After a weekend of glorious sunshine, we thought we’d kick-off the week in Cognacity Towers by reminding ourselves of the health benefits of topping up our vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin on exposure to sunshine, so it is not surprising that levels in the UK population are usually higher during the summer months and lower in the winter months, as body stores are depleted. However even during the summer months, many of us work long office hours and an indoor lifestyle have helped contribute to an insufficiency of this key nutrient.
According to Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies “A significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.” Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those with darker skin tones, those that cover their skin for cultural reasons, together with the elderly, teenagers and those under 5 years may be at further risk of deficiency.
Why all the fuss?
Most of us feel better when the sun is shining. However we may not know that Vitamin D has multiple beneficial effects on the tissues, organs and systems of the body.
Interest in vitamin D has broadened in recent years from a focus on bone health and the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis, to consideration of its role in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Moreover a poor vitamin status has been linked to increased mortality, infertility, diabetes, body weight, frequent infections, and mood disorders.
What can we do?
We can get more sun exposure perhaps in our lunch breaks and at weekends if the sun is shining. In the UK optimal synthesis of vitamin D occurs between May and September. Current guidelines are 20-30 minutes daily skin exposure to sunlight of the arms, legs and torso, before application of sunscreen. Sunscreen even as low as factor 8 will prevent 96% of vitamin D synthesis. Short breaks to sunny destinations are also advocated if possible. However sunbathing is not recommended and the photosensitive are advised to seek advice from GP or dermatologist.
We can eat foods that contain the vitamin such as oily fish, dairy products, eggs and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and fat spreads.
We can take vitamin D supplements, however since adverse effects may occur at high dosages it is advisable to seek expert advice from a healthcare professional. UK Dietary Reference Values for vitamin D are currently under review by The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and research to clarify the health benefits of vitamin D is on-going.
So now you really have a good excuse to take that short midday break outdoors when the sun is shining!