This summer’s heat wave may have had us sheltering in the shade, but now that its cooled off we should soak up some free Vitamin D. Government guidance suggests 10 - 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day to allow our skin to synthesise the sun’s UVB rays from cholesterol into the Vitamin D hormone. And what’s vitamin D good for? Bone health, muscle development, immune support and keeping at bay a host of health issues including heart disease, cancer, dementia, autoimmune diseases and types 2 diabetes.
I’ve used sunscreen on my face year-round since I was 25 (good advice from a dermatologist) and now I’ve got kids I’m even more obsessed about their skin. Nasty burns in childhood can contribute to skin cancer later in life – just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later – so it’s something I take very seriously.
The experts seem to disagree on whether sunscreen interferes with vitamin D synthesis, but most of us may not apply liberally or frequently enough anyway, allowing the sun’s rays to its job regardless. But I certainly slather it on well before any redness rears its head.
Every year I add new brands to the arsenal – taking mental notes on texture, absorption, ease of applying (to a squirming child) and any potential eye-stinging.
My favourites for me (for my face, my body I use the same as the kids):
For the kids:
Vitamin D – What’s In It For Me?
Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium from your gut, which you need for strong bones, and it also helps maintain phosphorus, another bone-building mineral. Without Vitamin D, the body steals calcium from bones depositing it back into your bloodstream, increasing fractures and osteoporosis.
More Efficient Immune System
Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory effects and can enhance the function of immune cells called T cells and macrophages.
Vitamin D3 or D2?
There are two types of vitamin D – D3 (cholecalciferol) and D2 (ergocalciferol). D3 is almost twice as effective at increasing blood levels and maintaining them.
Can I Eat My D3?
There aren’t many vitamin D rich foods to gorge on. Cod liver oil is abundant in D3, and you’ll find useful amounts of it in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel. A little in beef liver and eggs too. Otherwise look for fortified foods, like breakfast cereals and spreads.
What Happens If I’m Deficient?
There are studies that link low vitamin D levels to heart disease, cancer, dementia, autoimmune diseases and type 2 diabetes. It can also affect your mood – if you’re feeling depressed you may need to get your vitamin D levels checked.
Are My Levels Age-Related?
If you’re over 65 you generate a quarter of the vitamin D that someone in their 20s does (combined with the fact that older adults are more likely to stay indoors for longer). As we age – particularly in menopausal women – bone breakdown rates overtake bone building. Research has shown that Lactoferrin may reduce signals that promote bone loss and boost signals that promote bone growth.(1)
Improved Muscle Function
Vitamin D is important for the normal development and growth of muscle fibres.
What About My Skin Tone?
Those with darker skin tones have higher melanin, so the skin is less able to make Vitamin D as it is. Consider a supplement.
Can I Really Stock Up on Sunshine?
Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning after sun exposure, your body can store it for weeks or months at a time. So that last burst of summer is worth absorbing to invest in your autumn!
A Word on Supplements
In the UK, the NHS advises adults and kids over the winter months to supplement with vitamin D. Look here for guidance on how much, but be aware that the recommended daily intake is centred around bone health, so can be low. Consider getting your Vitamin D levels checked in the autumn – at the highest levels they are at – and then again in the spring to see how you have held on to it over the winter and whether you should supplement (you can get a test kit from your GP). Over supplementing with Vitamin D though, can cause excess calcium to build up in the body, which can weaken bones and damage the kidneys and heart. Be aware that the upper intake limit is 4000 IU for an adult.
Always seek medical advice from your clinician if you have any concerns.