Vitamin D deficiency is considered a significant health problem in Australia with one third of the population lacking in this important nutrient. It seems the health message to slip, slop, slap has been so effective that we are no longer getting enough sun exposure to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels.
So what role does vitamin D have in the body and how do you know if you are getting enough?
The basics of Vitamin D
“Vitamin D” is a generic term for two molecules, Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3.
Most of the bodies Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed UVB radiation from the sun. The UVB synthesises 7 dehydrocholesterol in the skin to produce Vitamin D.
While foods such as wild caught fatty fish and eggs contain Vitamin D, dietary sources only provide 5-10% of the bodies requirements.
The role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is probably best known for role in muscle function and bone health. It helps to regulate the absorption of calcium to optimise muscle development and prevent osteoporosis. But low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to the development of the following diseases -
Type II diabetes
Who is most at risk
Those who have very little or no sun exposure.
Very dark skinned people (Darker skin contains more of the pigment melanin which acts as a filter for UVB)
People with medical conditions or take medications that affect Vitamin D metabolism.
How much sun do you need?
Not much! Most people will receive enough vitamin D through normal day to day activity.
In summer it takes just 6-8 minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun exposure to the face, arms and hands (or equivalent) and in winter, 2-3 hours of midday sun exposure spread across the week to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels.
Its about finding a balance between enough sun exposure for Vitamin D production without increasing your risk of skin cancer.
How do you know if your Vitamin D levels are okay?
If you suspect that your Vitamin D levels are low see your GP for a simple blood test.
Supplementation may be indicated if your Vitamin D levels are low but should be done through your practitioner and taken strictly as recommended. Once low levels are corrected the goal is to maintain healthy levels.