At the time of writing Britain is basking in glorious sunshine and we are in the midst of a record breaking heatwave. The media is full of “sun safety” tips and advice – but did you know hiding from the sun can be as dangerous as getting too much exposure?
Most of us in the UK are Vitamin D deficient. This is mainly because during the dull and dreary months – which let’s face it, is most months – we don’t get enough sunlight.
While Vitamin D levels are generally higher in summer, it’s not the same for everyone. The process of producing Vitamin D becomes less effective with age, meaning older people are more likely to be Vitamin D deficient, as are pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with certain chronic medical conditions (affecting the kidneys or bowel), or on certain medications.
Also, the darker your skin tone, the more sunshine your body requires for this process – meaning people of Mediterranean or African heritage require more sunshine to maintain good Vitamin D levels, and are more likely to be deficient in the UK.
Why is Vitamin D important?
You know that Vitamin D is good for our bones, but most of us don’t realise the true importance of Vitamin D, and how a lack of this Vitamin can affect our health.
Our skin plays a big role in producing Vitamin D, which is activated by sunlight. In more technical terms, Vitamin D regulates the levels of two important minerals associated with bone health – calcium and phosphate. These are absorbed via a gut, in a diet rich, and are used in bones, teeth and muscles.
That’s why, a deficiency in Vitamin D can result in bone pain, muscle weakness and general tiredness. In severe cases, this can even lead to conditions such as brittle bones, rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
The Need For Vitamin D vs Staying Safe in The Sun!
When we talk about ‘sun exposure’, simply sitting by a window isn’t good enough – you’ve got to actually go outside to properly expose your skin to sunlight! But don’t worry, we’re not insisting on an hour’s sunbathing every day to get sufficient exposure – many doctors recommend that spending just ten minutes a day outside with good sunlight exposure on your arms (and legs, if possible!) is sufficient in maintaining a good level of Vitamin D.
However, there’s a fine line between getting enough sunshine and over-doing it!
Spending too much time in strong sunshine can lead to sunburn, where too much UV radiation from the sun damages the skin. This doesn’t just result in the short-term effects of pain and redness (and if you’re really unlucky – blistering, swelling and a splitting headache too!), but can have significant long-lasting, harmful effects on your skin. It’s estimated that getting sunburn, even just every couple of years, can triple your risk of developing skin cancer.
To prevent sunburn, make sure you wear sunscreen (at least factor 30, with UVA and UVB coverage!) when spending more than ten or so minutes in the sun. Reapply this every few hours, or after taking a dip in the pool or sea. Cover up with appropriate clothing, especially hats and sunglasses with UV protection, and avoid direct sun exposure in the hottest hours of the day during summer – usually between 11am and 3pm.
It’s difficult to maintain the right balance of sun exposure all year long, but it’s also incredibly important in the maintenance of your skin and bone health! Your GP is a great source of advice on any regarding sunburn, skin cancer, or Vitamin D deficiency, if you had any concerns regarding these topics.
If you do happen to be Vitamin D deficient, for whatever reason, your doctor will usually recommend taking supplements, such as “colecalciferol” or “ergocalciferol”, available from most pharmacies and even supermarkets. Kids who are deficient can take ‘vitamin drops’, as a Vitamin D supplement.
For more information visit www.londondoctorsclinic.co.uk
Dr Seth Rankin, Founder of London Doctors Clinic (www. Londondoctorsclinic.co.uk)