I had a dodgy-looking mole removed from my back this morning. It had started misbehaving and the NHS team was super-speedy at taking it off. Literally 3 weeks from GP appointment to surgery. Can’t fault the service I’ve received from the NHS on this one.
It got me thinking about sunshine, skin and more specifically vitamin D.
A BBC report last week said that 1 in 5 Brits are woefully low in vitamin D and need to supplement, especially once the summer sun has faded and we move into autumn. I’m not a fan of taking supplements for the sake of it, so I wanted to know more. Here’s the low-down on vitamin D.
Why do you need it?
- It increases the intestinal absorption of calcium, which is vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
- Vitamin D deficiency contributes to bones becoming weak and soft, is linked to ‘growing pains’ and in extreme cases can lead to rickets (which is on the rise in children), osteoporosis (something to watch out for as we turn 40+) and increased risk of bone fractures.
- It’s also needed for a healthy immune system and impacts mood, blood pressure AND skin.
How do you get vitamin D? 3 ways:
- From exposing the skin to sunlight. Our bodies make vitamin D when the skin is exposed to UVB rays during the months of April to September. How long you need in the sun very much depends on your skin type. The guidelines say roughly 10-15 minutes of daily exposure during the hours of 11-3 is enough. The key thing is NOT allowing your skin to burn. We definitely don’t want any burning. Bear in mind that your skin can make vitamin D in about half the time it would take your skin to burn. I’m very fair so for me that’s about 10 minutes of sun on my arms, hands and legs without any sunblock. You have to be outside too (sitting next to a window in the office doesn’t count!) as UVB doesn’t penetrate glass.
- From oily fish, eggs and fortified cereals. It’s good to have oily fish and eggs in your diet (as long as you’re not veggie or vegan of course), however it’s virtually impossible to get the optimum amount of vitamin D from food alone. And steer clear of fortified breakfast cereals. I’ve written before about the perils of hidden sugar and sadly, cereals are one of the worst culprits. Eat oily fish, eggs AND get a burst of sunlight on your skin each day too.
- From a supplement. A while back, guidelines said only babies and people at risk of vitamin D deficiency needed to supplement. Now the guidelines say we ALL need to supplement from October to March as the sun in the northern hemisphere is too weak to trigger the production of vitamin D in the skin. The recommended amount is 10 micrograms (sometimes written as 400IU) of vitamin D3 daily. Some say that the guidelines are erring on the side of caution and bigger doses are needed – but for now I’m just happy that the importance of this vitamin has been recognised as it can have a big impact on our health if we’re deficient.
I admit it’s a balancing act to get the right amount of sunshine whilst not over-doing it, as today’s mole-removal experience reminded me. I’ve never been a big sunbather as I have pale Yorkshire (!) skin. From now on I’ll get my 10 minutes of sun daily then cover up the rest of the time AND take a quality vitamin D3 supplement for good measure.