Vitamin D has long since been known to play an important role in keeping bones, muscles and the immune system healthy, with a growing body of research even suggesting that depleted levels could be linked to multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and heart disease.
Our bodies can only produce the nutrient when they are exposed to sunlight, meaning that in the usually grey and dreary Britain it can sometimes be difficult to get enough of the valuable vitamin.
The government have recently set up a major review on the efficacy of vitamin D but the results will not be published for several years. Until then the guidelines will remain the same, with the Department of Health stating that adequate levels for most individuals can be obtained through exposure to summer sunlight (not including pregnant women, the elderly and under fives).
However, though the Department of Health are saying that most of us don’t need extra vitamin D, various studies have revealed that there is a widespread deficiency of the vitamin throughout the UK.
In 2007, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that almost 90 per cent of 7,500 surveyed Brits aged 45 had a vitamin D deficiency during winter and spring, with 15 per cent being classified as having the severe deficiency that could lead to rickets in children and weakening bones in adults.
Experts are concerned that a combination of indoor lifestyles and health experts advising us to protect ourselves from the sun now means that many are blocking it out completely. Concerns about skin cancer risks have lead many using so much sunscreen that it actually blocks the UVB rays entirely, leading experts to rejig their advice slightly, cautioning individuals to avoid sunburn rather than the sunshine itself.
According to Ed Yong from Cancer Research UK, the body is able to gain enough vitamin D before the skin actually begins to redden and burn, so individuals should learn how to enjoy the sun sensibly.
In both early and late summer 30 minutes of sunlight exposure midday to the face and forearms generates around 2000 IU (international units) of vitamin D, way above the recommended 600 IU. In order to obtain healthy levels of vitamin D this kind of exposure is needed regularly, around two or three times a week.