Vitamin D – The Overlooked Essential Nutrient

As the cooler months approach we get less time outside to enjoy the suns rays, which can usually mean a drop in Vitamin D levels in our bodies.

We can get small amounts of Vitamin D through food but our main source of vitamin D is actually through the synthesis of it in our skin. Vitamin D’s important for its role in enhancing the small intestine's ability to absorb calcium from our food, which is crucial for bone strength. It also helps play a role in keeping our muscles fit and functioning.

Low levels of Vitamin D can cause:

•   Osteoporosis — thinning of the bones. Osteoporosis is a major risk factor for hip fractures, especially in the elderly.

•   There's also some evidence that low levels of vitamin D predispose to some cancers — especially cancer of the breast, colon and prostate.

A number of foods contain vitamin D such as fish, eggs and mushrooms, however these foods aren't nearly enough to give us adequate vitamin D. So that only leaves the sun to be our main source of vitamin D. The interaction of Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun with a steroid in our skin then produces vitamin D.

Fortunately your vitamin D can be stored over months, so you can stock up during the summer to keep some in reserve for winter.  The best parts of the day to get your sun exposure in summer are the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. For people with Caucasian-type the best amount of time in the sun is amount five to 15 minutes, for people with very fair skin, it's less than that and for people with darker skin, it can be quite a few more minutes than that.

Part of the reason health authorities differ over how much vitamin D they recommend we have is because they must weigh the benefits of sun exposure against the risk of skin cancer as a little bit of sunlight is good — too much is definitely bad for you because of the effect on skin cancers.

Groups at risk include people with very dark skin, those who cover their bodies for religious or cultural reasons, and even older Australians who may not lead active lives and spend most of their time indoors.

Unless you're in one of the at-risk groups outlined above, or have been advised by your doctor that you're deficient, you probably wont need to take supplements. For most people though, just getting out in the sun a little more will boost your vitamin D levels.

So now’s the time to get outside, exercise, de-stress and stock up on Vitamin D before winter.