Safe sun v. Vitamin D: getting the balance right.

deckchairsMuch has been made within the medical community in recent years of the growing levels of vitamin D deficiency amongst the population and the health problems that can result because of it. Osteoporosis, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, even certain cancers have been partly attributed to a lack of this key vitamin.

A recent survey showed that in the UK 50% of people have insufficient levels of vitamin D and 16% of people are severely deficient in it. The cause can largely be put down to one factor: a modern day lack of bare skin exposure to sunshine, the major source (80%-100%) of vitamin D.

But what to do? Few foods naturally contain vitamin D so it’s not simply a case of adjusting our diets. Plus changes in lifestyle have seen humans go from living and working largely outdoors to being clad in clothing, working in office blocks, living in buildings that block the sun and travelling in cars. What’s more, scare stories about the rise in incidence of skin cancer has further limited bare skin exposure to the sun, especially for children, as we slather on high factor sunscreen at its first glimpse meaning even less vitamin D is being produced in our bodies.

Getting the balance right can be tricky – few of us want ourselves, or our kids to suffer sun-burn – but it can be achieved, and it’s important that we maximise our well-being when the sun comes out to play. Here’s how you can do it:

It doesn’t take long for the body to produce vitamin D: a mere 10-15 minutes exposure to UK summer sun without sunscreen is considered to be a safe balance between adequate levels of vitamin D and any risk of skin cancer.

Midday – or as close to this time as possible – in the summer is best. This is because the angle of the sun at this time maximises the chance of vitamin D producing UVB rays getting through. The length of your shadow is a good indicator as to whether or not you’re producing enough vitamin D – the shorter the shadow, the better!

The more skin that is exposed the higher the chance of producing enough vitamin D before burning. Naked is best – though admittedly unpractical! Go bare armed – and legged – if you can, at least several times a week.