In Australia, we are lucky to have an abundance of sunshine, so it is surprising that vitamin D deficiency is a common condition affecting a large proportion of Australians.
According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s journal, Australian Prescriber, lack of vitamin D is a contributing factor to osteomalacia, which is the condition of bone softening that can often lead to bone fractures. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and increased risk of some cancers.
Our main source of vitamin D in Australia comes from our skin being exposed to sunlight, but it is also found in foods such as salmon, eggs, meats, milk and some fortified foods such as margarine. For most of us, it is unlikely that we would get enough vitamin D through dietary sources alone.
So where does that leave us? If we are unlikely to get adequate vitamin D through our food, should we head out into the Sun?
Due to the high incidence of skin cancer in Australia, it is difficult to set guidelines as to levels of sunshine required for individuals to get adequate vitamin D.
Australian Family Physician, the journal of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, has said that a recommended exposure of 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight 4 to 6 times a week before 10.00am and/or after 2.00pm seems prudent, but certainly avoiding exposure to sunlight in the middle of the day is advisable as this is when there are the highest levels of dangerous ultraviolet rays. Guidelines on exposure to sunshine need to be tailored to the individual, as many factors need to be considered, including location, time of day, skin type and colour, and medications.
Sunscreens offer us varied amounts of protection from dangerous ultraviolet rays but it is also thought these block vitamin D absorption.
There are many good vitamin D supplements that can be purchased over the counter at pharmacies but having too much of this can also cause problems, hence the quandary.
First and most important is to get advice from your doctor. Have a simple blood test to find out if you are in fact vitamin D deficient. If so, follow your doctor’s advice on how is best to boost vitamin D levels for YOU.
Should your doctor advise you to keep out of the sun and take vitamin D supplements, but having bronzed skin is important to you, then there are many good self-tanning products available. These include those that come in the form of moisturizers with low levels of tanning element in them that allow your skin to gradually build colour for a lovely sun-kissed look. There are spray-on tans and instant tanning products as well, but keep in mind that whilst your skin may look tanned when you have used these products, it is most unlikely that they offer any sun protection.
For me, it’s vitamin a D supplement, slow building of a tan through bottled measures and always putting on SPF 30 sunscreen when I am outdoors.