Do we get enough of the sunshine vitamin?
Most people are aware that the human body naturally produces Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. The question is whether we are getting enough of those life-giving ultraviolet B (UV B) rays from the sun to prevent Vitamin D deficiency? Surprisingly, even here in New Zealand where we enjoy reasonable sunlight for much of the year, Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly prevalent throughout the population, especially amongst the elderly. Research in New Zealand has shown that at least 5% of the general population is vitamin D deficient and that the rate is much higher in women and babies.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a variety of health concerns. Supplementing with this humble vitamin can be supportive for wellbeing even more so considering busy lifestyles and full-time jobs working inside.
Many factors influence how much Vitamin D is produced through the skin and indicate whether the use of supplementation would be helpful for health. These include the following (but the list is not even complete!):
- Which part of the day is spent in the sun, how much of the body is exposed and is sunscreen used?
- To make vitamin D, bare skin needs to be exposed to sunlight for half the time it takes for the skin to burn. NIWA provides a daily guide of the UV throughout New Zealand to check burn times.
- The more skin is exposed the more vitamin D is made. For sufficient vitamin D production, it is recommended to expose face, arms and legs.
- It needs to be the correct time of the day to make vitamin D, which depends on latitude. For New Zealand, this means a good time frame to make vitamin D is between 10am and 3pm in summer and between 11am and 2pm in winter.
- Sunscreen blocks most vitamin D production because it is working to screen the UV B rays; sunbathing behind glass won’t make vitamin D.
- Age and skin pigment type:
- With age it is harder for the skin to produce vitamin D, therefore, vitamin D supplementation is supportive for wellbeing including bone health, helping to prevent falls and support happy mood.
- The amount of melanin in the skin (more melanin means darker skin) affects the amount of vitamin D that will be produced. With darker skin, fewer UVB rays are entering the skin and less vitamin D is made. This means a longer skin exposure to the UV B is needed or supplementation with vitamin D is recommended.
- Fashion or differing cultural norms governing dress style: wearing clothes which cover most of the body and hence reducing exposure to sunlight means less production of vitamin D.
There is no doubt that there is the need to protect human bodies from too much sunlight and sun damage and that sensible sun exposure is a good practice. Adequate sun exposure is needed to maintain health and to produce vitamin D. It is supportive for wellbeing to bathe as much of the body as possible in direct natural sunlight on a regular basis without sunscreen, using common sense to judge appropriate exposure times to avoid sunburn. It is , of course, advised to apply sunscreen to prevent burning the skin whenever it is needed.
It’s important to choose a natural sunscreen that contains natural mineral ingredients with the correct SPF needed for skin type and location. HealthPost stocks a variety of good quality and independently tested sunscreens that meet our Good Ingredients Promise for clean.
Why is Vitamin D so important for balanced health?
Vitamin D deficiency is now associated with many health conditions including chronic diseases. Previously it was thought that sufficient vitamin D is mainly important for bone health but new research has shown otherwise. Vitamin D has shown to be good for
- Strong immune system function
- A healthy cardiovascular system
- Healthy brain development of the foetus
- Supporting the body when suffering from chronic conditions
- Balancing mood
- Healthy lung and airway function
- And of course, for supporting healthy bones, muscular and nerve function
Sources of vitamin D
As mentioned above the main source of vitamin D is sunlight. There are limited food sources of vitamin D:
- Fatty fish
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Fortified milk, juice and cereals
- Infant formulas
These foods contain a small amount of vitamin D only and are not enough to sustain sufficient vitamin D levels for good health.
There might be times when it is supportive for wellbeing to take additional vitamin D as a supplement. It is taken in the form of vitamin D3 which is the form of vitamin D the body produces in response to sun exposure. The maximum dose allowed in supplements sold in New Zealand for adults is 1000IU per day.
HealthPost offers a range of Vitamin D supplements including Vitamin D that is vegan-friendly. If there are digestive problems present it might be best to take a vitamin D tablet which can be dissolved under the tongue or a vitamin D spray.
It is advised to check with a health professional to rule out any contraindications due to medical conditions or medication.
For more information about Vitamin D, head to Vitamin D information for a more in-depth look.