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Vitamin D and Sunshine

Vitamin D deficiency appears to be more prevalent, even outside the season of winter.

And as it is winter, I thought it timely to return to the topic of vitamin D and sunshine.

We understand that excessive amounts of sunshine, particularly during those times of the day when the sun is intense can increase our risk of developing skin cancer.  It is an important message that has been communicated effectively.

However we are unfortunately seeing increasing levels of Vitamin D deficiency particularly in women.  Like most things there are likely multiple factors contributing to this.

I am often asked questions about Vitamin D including why is it important, can get it safely from sunshine, are there are sources and is it possible to take too much when taking a supplement?

Read on for my answers.

1. What is Vitamin D?

  • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
  • The form mainly used by the body is D3 (cholecalciferol).
  • When a precursor form of Vitamin D is exposed to ultraviolet light in sunlight is converted to Vitamin D3.

2. Why is Vitamin D important for health?

Vitamin D receptors are found in a wide array of tissues in our body.   Key essential functions and/or roles include:

  • It is essential for maintaining blood calcium levels; normal blood calcium levels are required for functioning of the nervous system, bone growth and maintenance of bone density.
  • It plays an important role in maintaining and supporting immunity, including autoimmunity (where an immune response is mounted against cells belong to our body).
  • Vitamin D concentrations are linked to body composition indices, particularly body fat mass, research suggests redressing low levels of Vitamin D may reduce body fat mass.
  • Deficiency or altered metabolism of Vitamin D appears to play a role in the development of osteoporosis.
  • Studies suggest that maintaining adequate levels of sunshine exposure and Vitamin D intake were associated with reduced risk of some cancers including colon and potentially breast cancer.

3. Can we Vitamin D safely from sunshine?

  • The importance of regular sunshine 3 – 4 times weekly for short periods to maintain our levels of Vitamin D is important.
  • I suggest early morning sun is often best, aiming particularly in summer to act on the Skin Cancer Foundation advice and avoid or cover up in parts of the day when UV is best avoided.
  • In the mornings you could take a morning walk, eat your breakfast in the sun or if at work take a mid-morning break to walk or stand in the sun, making sure you get outdoors on the weekend.
  • I also suggest you aim to expose your arms and legs, as I know many particularly ladies seek to protect their face, neck and chest.
  • If you would like more detailed advice on sun exposure, consult the Cancer Council Australia website and search on “UV Alert”.

4. Can I take excess Vitamin D when taking a supplement?

  • I believe understanding that moderation and balance in all things related to health is essential.
  • Hypervitaminosis D is Vitamin D toxicity.
  • Vitamin D toxicity has never been observed from those getting their Vitamin D from sunshine.
  • Vitamin D toxicity appears to result from excess supplementation – taking too much Vitamin D via a supplement.
  • If you would like to understand your levels of Vitamin D do not self-supplement, consult a health practitioner and have a blood test to confirm your levels.

5. Are there any other sources of Vitamin D in food?

  • Unfortunately Vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods.
  • Small amounts of Vitamin D can be found in some fish including herring, salmon and sardines and milk fortified with Vitamin D.
  • Amounts found in food are small and it is very difficult to get the required amount of Vitamin D from food alone.

6. Are there any issues for particular sections of the population?

  • People who have reduced sun exposure, either through choice or due to being largely indoors (e.g. for a job) may be at risk of deficiency.
  • It is suggested that those with health issues include inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s may be an increased risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Those suffering with fat malabsorption challenges may experience impaired ability to absorb dietary Vitamin D.
  • The elderly often have reduced sun exposure and coupled with their reduced capacity to absorb vitamin D may increase their risk of deficiency.
  • Those suffering from autoimmune diseases or challenges would be wise to have their Vitamin D levels checked by a health practitioner and redressed where appropriate.
  • People at high risk of skin cancers and who therefore avoid exposure to the sun.
  • Those who wear clothing for religious or cultural reasons.
  • Breast feeding mothers who are low in Vitamin D may need to discuss the need for a supplement with their consulting health practitioner.
  • Those with very dark skin naturally, the pigment in the skin acts as a filter to the ultraviolet B radiation.

To confirm I believe optimal health is best achieved when adopting the motto moderation and balance.

Be wise and safe with your sun exposure however ensure your time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine.

Talk soon, take care

ciao Jan