Have we ‘slip, slop, slapped’ too far?
What do you like best about the summer months ahead? Longer summer evenings for walking, or a backyard barbeque? Outings to the river or beach? If, like me you are solar powered and you enjoy outdoor activities you may be frightened by the sun and the risk of skin cancer.
It is true that getting sunburned is going to age your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. However it is also true that almost one third of adult Australian’s are vitamin D deficient. And 73% had levels considered by experts to be below the optimal for musculoskeletal health. Professor Robin Daly from Deakin University says that this is very concerning as it leads to softened bones and muscle weakness increasing the risk of falls, fractures and ultimately death.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk for many other chronic illnesses in children and adults including type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, infectious diseases and some cancers.
Insufficiency in pregnancy is associated with preeclampsia and babies who are vitamin D deficient in utero are at increased risk for developing wheezing disorders and asthma. Foods that contain vitamin D are rare. Oily fish and cod liver oil do have some. So to get sufficient vitamin D sensible sun exposure or supplements are required.
So what is sensible sun exposure? Firstly it is important to understand that very little vitamin D is produced in the skin before 10am or after 3pm. Dr Michael Holick (Professor of Medicine, Boston University) recommends 7 to 10 minutes exposure to sunlight of arms and legs. It is not wise to expose your face to direct sunlight. It is the most sun-exposed area of the body and yet it is only 9% of the body surface therefore it will not contribute significantly to your bodies Vitamin D absorption and it is where many people develop skin cancers. Dark skinned individuals may require up to 6 times more exposure to get the same benefit.
Your GP can refer you for a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels. If you are particularly deficient supplementation will be required to restore normal levels. Research has shown that vitamin D supplementation is very safe.
It is worth noting that not all sunscreens are created equal. Many commercial brands contain chemical UV absorbers, titanium dioxide and synthetic preservatives all of which may be harmful. Fortunately, there are some great products that are effective and less harmful. Do read the labels!
So “keep your hat on”, enjoy our great outdoors safely and make sure your vitamin D levels are adequate for long term health and well-being.