Needing an excuse to get outside more?

With one in four Australians not getting enough Vitamin D I’m sure you’ve wondered what is it about this vitamin that is generating so much hype.

Let me explain what you can do to ensure that you are getting enough and why it is so important to maintain adequate levels of this sunshine vitamin.

So you want to increase your Vitamin D levels but not sure what is the best way to go about it? Food sources of Vitamin D are limited and include canned fish such as salmon, tuna or sardines, eggs, or products fortified with Vitamin D such as milk and margarine. Keep in mind that even these sources only offer small amounts and Vitamin D is one of the very few vitamins that you cannot meet your nutritional requirements through your diet alone. In fact, Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary for the production of Vitamin D in the skin and is the best natural source. So there’s really no need to feel blue as all you need to do is head on out into some glorious sunshine and let your body lap up the Vitamin D from the sun!
UV radiation from the sun is also the main cause of skin cancer so it is still important to be sun smart by avoiding excessive exposure to UV rays particularly in the middle of the day, and using sunscreen and protective clothing as advised. A small amount of sunlight exposure is required most days for adequate Vitamin D, so take a balanced approach to sun exposure to minimise your skin cancer risk.

How much do you need?

Finding a happy medium between deficiency and over-diligent sun exposure shouldn’t be a dilemma. For most people in Australia, exposure of the hands, arms and face to sunlight in the early morning or late afternoon (before 10am and after 3pm and/or when UV index is below 3) for approximately 5-10 minutes per day in summer and 20-30 minutes per day in winter is adequate.

For people with darker skin or who have their hands, arms and/or face covered for most of the day, additional time may be required.

If you do have a Vitamin D deficiency then you’ll need a short dose of supplementation. Have your levels re-tested after 3 months to ensure your levels are back up into the normal range and then remind yourself to expose yourself to a little more sunshine each day to maintain your levels.

So why do we need Vitamin D?
Maintaining adequate Vitamin D levels is important to help manage a range of health conditions. Let’s discuss my top three reasons why preventing Vitamin D deficiency should be one of your top priorities:

1. Maintain healthy bones
Vitamin D assists the absorption of calcium needed for healthy bones. Without adequate Vitamin D calcium is leached out of your bone stores, weakening them and increasing your osteoporosis risk. People with Vitamin D deficiency are at greater risk of falls and fractures not only due to weaker bones but also because they generally have reduced balance, co ordination and muscle function.

2. Strengthen your immune system
Your immune system is comprised of an array of immune cells that are designed to fight off nasties and keep you feeling your best. Vitamin D receptors are found on the majority of your immune cells and play a role in their function and signalling. Deficiency in Vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity, where your immune system starts to attack your own body, as well as an increased susceptibility to infection such as the flu and respiratory tract infections.

3. Keep your mind resilient
Researchers are now discovering a link between Vitamin D and mental health. Vitamin D receptors are found in areas of the brain that control mood and may play an important role in the development and treatment of mood disorders. Although the actual mechanism as to how Vitamin D works on these brain receptors is not fully understood it is believed that adequate Vitamin D can potentially prevent or minimise symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.

Head on outside (being sun smart of course) to boost your Vitamin D levels naturally and keep your body and mind strong. If you are concerned about your Vitamin D levels a simple blood test can determine your level and assess your risk. Seek advice from your doctor or local Accredited Practising Dietitian for more information.

Break out boxes (if needed)
1. You’re more likely to pick up a cold or other infection during winter when sun exposure is reduced and your Vitamin D levels decrease.

2. Vitamin D supplementation can be in capsules of liquid form and is easily accessible from your local pharmacy.

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