Bring on the Sunshine!
Updated: May 13, 2019
One of the things I love about my job as a GP is seeing patients again, looking and feeling well, after having started them on treatment. It’s even better when the problem is diagnosed easily, and medication started straight away, without putting the patient through weeks of tests, appointments and anxiety. Vitamin D deficiency is one such thing. Lots of patients present to me with vague symptoms of tiredness, body aches and feeling generally not themselves and one simple blood test can quickly get us on the road to recovery.
Given that Vitamin D is made by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, it is no wonder that 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 5 children in the UK have low vitamin D levels (Thankyou British weather!)
Why is it important?
Vitamin D has numerous roles in the body including but not only, helping to keep bones and muscles strong, protecting against certain cancers and other chronic diseases, maintaining immunity and helping with low mood (especially in the winter months)
Vitamin D and Skincare
Aside from maintaining general skin health and avoiding pale skin and dark circles, a strong link between eczema and Vitamin D has been identified
Vitamin D has been found to reduce the severity of eczema symptoms
Pregnant women should take Vitamin D supplements to avoid infantile eczema
Vitamin D and Anti-ageing
Studies have found that higher levels of Vitamin D were associated with reduced skin ageing and a slowing down of DNA ageing
What are the symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency?
Sometimes people don’t have any symptoms or put it down to being generally tired, making it difficult to pick up early. Here’s what to watch out for …
People especially vulnerable: Older - anyone over the age of 55 is less efficient at making vitamin D
Wearing sunscreen - although it is strongly advised to always be protected from the sun, we should bear in mind that this puts us at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. The solution to this is spending some time in the sun unprotected before applying sunscreen and try to make up for this lack by making sure your diet has plenty of Vitamin D
Not spending enough time outside - again, the elderly, the housebound or being antisocial! Sitting next to windows doesn’t count, as UVB, the type of sunray that produces Vitamin D, does not pass through glass
Not exposing skin - Some cultures are required to cover up completely in the way they dress, putting them at higher risk
Pregnancy - lacking Vitamin D in pregnancy can increase the risk of asthma, eczema in the child and other chronic diseases in their later life
Dieting / vegans/ vegetarians - be careful not to cut out whole food groups and miss out on vital vitamins and nutrients
Overweight - the fat under the skin can stop the vitamin from being released
Darker skin - Asian/ African/ Caribbean/ Mediterranean because melanin acts as a natural sunscreen
Infants and children - all children under 5 should be on Vitamin D3 supplements as fussy eating puts them at higher risk
So what’s the best way of getting Vitamin D?
Sun exposure: Expose your arms and legs to the sunshine for about 15 mins from March to September in the UK before applying sunscreen. Ideally this should be done between 11 and 3pm when the sun is higher in the sky. You will need to spend longer under the sun (about 3- 5 times) if you have darker skin. The levels of sunlight outside of these months are too low and hence the increased risk in the UK / Western Europe.
Diet: Ensure that your diet is rich in oily fish and eggs as well as green vegetables and some red meat. Fortified milk and cereals are also a good source of Vitamin D.
Supplements: The alternative if not getting enough through sunlight or your diet. See your doctor who will decide how much needs to be replaced or needed for maintenance and will check it is not interacting with other medication you may be on or affecting any existing medical conditions.
If you feel you have any of the symptoms, or you are in the higher risk group then see your GP for a blood test. Any deficiency will be corrected with either tablets/an injection/ liquid depending on the severity of the deficiency and your situation. Remember that even if you are taking supplements, it is essential to maintain safe exposure to sunlight and a vitamin rich diet.
Now go out and make the most of the sunshine!