Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and we get most of ours from sunlight exposure.
We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones and teeth. A lack of vitamin D – known as vitamin D deficiency – can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.
How do we get vitamin D?
Our body creates most of our vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. However, we also obtain vitamin D from foods including, meat, eggs and some oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. It is also added to soya products, dairy, powdered milks and infant formula milk.
How long should we spend in the sun?
The body can produce vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods of time. Most lighter skinned people only need to be out in the sunshine for 10-15 minutes for the health benefits of sun exposure to start. People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount.
You can’t make vitamin D from sitting indoors by a sunny window because ultraviolet B (UVB) rays can’t get through, but you can still burn. How long it takes for your skin to burn varies from person to person but if you plan to be out in the sun for long, seek shade, avoid the mid day sun and apply at least SPF 15 sun cream.
Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D deficiency, is a result of inadequate or limited exposure to sunlight, improper diet, or problems related to absorption of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency usually results in bad mineralization of bones, leading to bone softening, osteomalacia, rickets and osteoporosis.
The following groups are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency, and the Department of Health advises these people to take daily vitamin D supplements:
- Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding
- Babies and young children from six months to five years old – unless they are having 500ml or more a day of infant milk formula
- People aged 65 and over
- People who have darker skin (African, African Caribbean or South Asian origin). Because of your skin colour you may find you need more time in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D than those who have lighter skin.
Speak to your pharmacist or GP, if you are unsure whether you have vitamin D deficiency or don’t know what supplements to take. But most importantly, take advantage of the sunshine and let it warm your bones back to health.