Vitamin D the sunshine vitamin
As the sun makes a welcome return, the National Osteoporosis Society today launches its fifth Sunlight Campaign to remind people across the UK to get outside for a few minutes every day between May and September to keep their vitamin D levels topped up.
A survey carried out by the National Osteoporosis Society has revealed that more people than before know that sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, and understand that we should leave skin uncovered for a few minutes each day.
But there are still too many who mistakenly believe that we should wear sunscreen to obtain vitamin D, unwittingly putting themselves at risk of deficiency and unhealthy bones.
The survey, which questioned 600 people in the UK, found that 62%of respondents understood that we need vitamin D to keep our bones healthy, but while a third correctly believed that the best way to get vitamin D is by going outside in the sun without sunscreen, another third think that you should wear sunscreen. While they are correct that sunscreen is needed to protect the skin, it is important to allow a few minutes of sunlight to make vitamin D (taking care not to burn if you have sensitive skin).
Dr Helen Macdonald, Chair of the National Osteoporosis Society's Nutrition and Lifestyle Forum said: "Vitamin D has been long known to improve bone health, by helping our bodies process calcium effectively - it is essential for bone and muscle health as it promotes calcium absorption from our food. Our bones need the added mineral to make them strong and supportive; and vitamin D may play an important role in muscle function'.
We are encouraged by these survey results, but clearly there is a long way to go in improving awareness of vitamin D."
Siobhan Hallmark, spokeswoman for the National Osteoporosis Society said: "We have run the Sunlight Campaign for the past five years to improve awareness of vitamin D and bone health and we're pleased that our latest survey shows that the public understanding is definitely improving. Over 37% of people we questioned this year understood that you need to head outside without sunscreen in order to obtain your vitamin D, compared to only 6% of respondents three years ago, but there is still a lot of confusion and a lot of people still think that you should wear sunscreen. It is worrying that this uncertainty could mean that a lot of people are not getting the vitamin D they need, and could be putting themselves at risk of weaker bones."
The survey has also identified confusion around dietary sources - when asked if they took a vitamin D supplement, almost half of respondents said that they didn't need to because they ate a healthy balanced diet, but actually only a small amount of our vitamin D comes from food sources. Although a healthy balanced diet is important for our all-round health, we really do need summer sunlight to maintain our vitamin D levels.
In 2010, the National Osteoporosis Society led a number of leading health charities with an interest in vitamin D and issued a consensus statementwhich agreed on a safe sun message. The statement was the result of collaborative work between the National Osteoporosis Society, the British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Heart Forum and the Primary Care Dermatology Society.
Last year, the All Party Parliamentary Osteoporosis Group (APPOG) published the findings of a year-long Nutrition Inquiry and called for better and clearer public health messaging regarding safe sun. APPOG Co-Chair Baroness Cumberlege said: "The dangers of over-exposure to the summer sun are well known - however this inquiry highlights how important it is to get enough vitamin D through small, safe amounts of direct summer sunlight."
The National Osteoporosis Society's 2012 Sunlight Campaign will run from May until September to remind people across the UK that the best way to top up your vitamin D and boost your bones is by going outside for a few minutes every day...and, even better, it's completely free! To find out more, visit nos.org.uk/vitamind
Key Messages for the 2012 Sunlight Campaign:
Sunlight is the best natural source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our bodies to process calcium effectively and is essential for healthy bones.
Exposure to sunlight every day between 11am and 3pm from May until September will increase Vitamin D and help to keep bones healthy
You should try to get 10 minutes of sun exposure to your bare skin, once or twice a day (depending on skin type), without sunscreen and taking care not to burn.
Always take care not to burn, especially during the strong sunshine in the middle of the day. Babies and children have very sensitive skin and need careful protection.
Even on cloudy days, your body can still produce Vitamin D from sunlight but it can take a little longer.
Get outside between May and September so that your body can produce enough Vitamin D to help see you through the winter months.
Make sure that you are actually outside. Your body cannot produce Vitamin D even if you are sitting by a window or in a conservatory on a sunny day. You must be outside.
Only a small proportion of vitamin D comes from the food we eat, but it is still important to include vitamin D rich foods in your diet, such as oily fish and eggs. Many margarines, breakfast cereals and dairy alternatives are fortified, but do check the label.
If you are 65+ years, not exposed to much sun (e.g. housebound or cover-up for cultural reasons) or a pregnant or breast-feeding woman, you should consider taking a daily, 10 micrograms (400IU), vitamin D supplement.
Did you know?
Only about 10% of our vitamin D comes from food.
If your skin starts to burn, your body will begin to deplete the vitamin D that it has produced so safe sun is always best.
If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is at the right angle to produce vitamin D.
Your body cannot produce vitamin D thorough windows - you need to be outside.
Even on cloudy summer days, we can still produce vitamin D but it can take a little longer.