Vitamin D and the sun

Doctors have warned recently about a sharp rise in cases of rickets, the bone disease in children. Vitamin D deficiency, which causes the condition has been blamed on that fact that children spend too long indoors, and also on parents who are over-vigilant with the sun cream.

According to a clinical review paper in the British Medical Journal by Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham, there are several hundred cases of vitamin D deficiency reported among children in the UK every year.

“More than 50% of the UK adult population have insufficient levels of vitamin D and 16% have severe deficiency during winter and spring,” they say. “The highest rates are in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England. People with pigmented skin are at high risk as are the elderly, obese individuals and those with malabsorption.”

What can we do?

We produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight. To keep the body healthy, we need 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the face, arms, back or legs (without sunscreen) twice a week, every week. Exposure to sunlight is a risk for melanoma, but this is referring to ‘prolonged’ exposure.

It is recommended that we use sunscreen after a few minutes in the sun; even when the sun is obscured. As the sun is a rare sight in winter (and during summer in the UK) we really need to get additional vitamin D from our diets (or from supplements) during this time, even if you are an outdoor person.

The intensity of UVB rays is also reduced by clouds, pollution and UVB will not travel through glass, so sitting next to a window will not give you enough sunlight to make vitamin D.