Our biggest source of vitamin D comes from the sun. With so much sun around, getting your daily dose of this vitamin should be a piece of cake. Sadly this is not so. An estimated 73% of adults suffer from inadequate vitamin D levels.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D has many important functions in the body such as:
- Building bones
- Keeping our muscles strong
- Modulating our moods
- Boosting our immunity
Without adequate levels, our body struggles to do these jobs to the best of its ability.
When it comes to immunity, Vitamin D is crucial in activating your immune system.
If you find that you are getting sick often, then it is a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked. This is can be done via a blood test. It should be noted that the normal range for Vitamin D is quite broad. Even if your vitamin D status falls within the normal range your levels may still be too low for maintaining optimal health.
How can we boost our Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is actually made in your skin once it has been exposed to the UVB rays of the sun. This is where the majority of our vitamin D comes from. Obtaining adequate Vitamin D levels can be affected in some of the following ways:
- Not getting enough sun exposure due to:
- spending too much time indoors,
- lathering up with sunscreen,
- shading ourselves from the sun,
- Concern over developing skin cancer has made many of us sun shy
- Skin colour – the darker your skin the more sun exposure you need to make vitamin D.
- Air quality – pollution creates a barrier that decreases the ability of UVB rays to reach the earth’s atmosphere¹.
- Age – as we age our bodies become less efficient at making vitamin D².
- Distance from the Equator and season of the year affects UVB rays and therefore vitamin D levels.
We do also get small amounts of vitamin D from some food sources such as fatty fish like salmon and cod liver oil, mushrooms, and egg yolks Vitamin D supplementation is also an option for those who are not able to obtain enough vitamin D from other sources. However, not all vitamin D supplements are the same. Vitamin D is prone to oxidisation and deterioration, so it is important to use a high-quality vitamin D with proven stability.
How much sun exposure do we need?
The Ministry of Health in New Zealand has released a consensus statement on the levels of sun exposure. Below I have outlined a summary or for more detailed information you can access the document via the pdf link.
Consensus statement summary:
- Sunburn should always be avoided. Exposure must be to direct sunlight as UVB does not pass through glass.
- Sun protection should be used throughout the year when at high altitudes or near highly reflective surfaces, such as snow or water.
- Between September and April – Deliberate sun exposure during peak ultraviolet radiation periods (10 am and 4 pm) is not recommended because this increases the risk of skin cancer, eye damage and photo ageing. Sun protection (shade, cover-up clothing, hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses) should be used during peak time. A daily walk exposed to the sunlight outside the peak times in the early morning or late afternoon is recommended.
- Between May and August, sun protection is generally not required unless at high altitudes or near highly reflective surfaces, such as snow or water. A daily walk or other outdoor activity is recommended around noon when UVB levels are at their highest.
- Those at high risk of skin cancer include those: with a history of skin cancer, who are highly sun sensitive, who have received an organ transplant, or who are taking medicines that increase photosensitivity. These people should discuss their vitamin D requirements with their health practitioner to determine whether dietary supplementation with vitamin D would be a preferable alternative to sun exposure.
- Refer to the daily Ultraviolet Index at sunsmart.org.nz or www.niwa.co.nz/our-services/online-services/uv-and-ozone/forecasts.
1 Hosseinpanah, Farhad et al. “The Effects of Air Pollution on Vitamin D Status in Healthy Women: A Cross Sectional Study.” BMC Public Health 10 (2010): 519. PMC. Web. 24 July 2017.
2 Boucher BJ. The problems of Vitamin D insufficiency in older people. Aging and disease. 2012 Aug; 3 (4): 313-29
3 Nowson, McGrath, Ebeling, Haikerwal, Daly, Sanders, Seibel, Mason. Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement. Med J Aust 2012; 196 (11): 686-687.)