Spring is on its way, but if you’re still feeling the winter blues, it could mean you’re not getting enough natural sunlight exposure. We know how strong the Aussie sun is, so here are some genius ways to up your vitamin D intake without harming your skin
Spring is well on its way — hurrah! But we’re not past winter’s cold spell quite yet. The risk of vitamin D deficiency and infections are still rife, so we talked to our pharmacist Daniel Zhou, to give some advice on how to boost vitamin D throughout winter and beyond.
What is vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D — which is made in our skin following sunlight exposure and also found in oily fish (mackerel, tuna and sardines), mushrooms and fortified dairy and non-dairy substitutes — is essential for good health. Humans need vitamin D to keep healthy and to fight infections. The irony is that in winter, when people need vitamin D the most, most of us are not getting enough.
So how much should we take? Should we take supplements? How do we get more? And, who needs it most?
Vitamin D, commonly called the sunshine vitamin, is made in the skin after exposure to sun. The same UVB rays that cause a sunburn also make vitamin D. Sunscreen, darker skin pigmentation, clothing and reduced daylight in winter diminish the skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Dark-skinned individuals are more likely than fair-skinned individuals to be low for vitamin D year-round because the darker skin blocks the UVB rays from producing vitamin D.
How long should we spend in the sun?
The amount of time you need in the sun depends on several things, including where you live, the season, time of day, your skin colour and the amount of skin exposed. However, during summer, most people can get adequate vitamin D from just 5-10 minutes outside.
It’s important to avoid the high UV times, so mid-morning or mid afternoon is best. Always follow safe sun guidelines because too much sun can increase your risk of skin cancer and may cause the vitamin D in your skin to break down.
From May to August, if you have fair to olive skin, experts recommend two to three hours of midday sun exposure to the face, arms and hands, spread across the duration of a week.
What happens if I don't get enough vitamin D?
Moderate to severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets (soft bones) in infants and children.
Low vitamin D levels can lead to osteoporosis and increase your risk of falls and fractures (broken bones) if you’re over 50. Osteoporosis occurs when your bones lose calcium and other minerals, making them fragile and more likely to break. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, while not having enough can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
People with very low levels of vitamin D (moderate to severe deficiency) are at risk of developing further health problems.
Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
You may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency if you:
- stay mostly indoors for health, work or other reasons
- have naturally dark skin
- cover your body for religious or cultural reasons
- avoid the sun for skin protection or due to medical reasons
- are obese
- have a health condition that affects vitamin D absorption from your diet
- take medicines that cause vitamin D to break down
- are a baby of a vitamin D deficient mother
Vitamin D Supplements
Most people don’t need vitamin D supplements. There can be side effects if you have too much vitamin D in your body. If you are vitamin D deficient, talk to your doctor for advice on whether to take supplements.
Vitamin D supplements are available over the counter and in different forms, including capsules, tablets, soluble tablets, chewable tablets, powder and liquids. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on the best one for you based on the strength of the medicine, the number and type of active ingredients it contains and your reason for taking it.