We’re all desperate to see it, we don’t get enough of it. But as soon as it makes it’s occasional appearance from behind a cloud we’re desperately digging around in the cupboards to find some Factor 50 to slap on the kids.
Skin needs exposure to ultraviolet rays (UVB) to make vitamin D. In the north , ie. in the UK there is only enough UVB to make Vitamin D between April and September. Vitamin D is necessary for bone growth and strength. It helps the body absorb calcium. Illnesses like rickets are associated with very low levels. It is also associated with better muscle strength and function and a reduced risk of falls.
Levels of vitamin D in the UK are lowest in winter and highest in summer. Levels are lower in people who live in care homes as they often get minimal sun exposure. They are also low in people who cover up most of their skin when they are outside. Levels tend to also be lower in Asian and black people.
There are no specific recommendations on how much sun you should get to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Some foods do contain vitamin D, such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks. Foods may have vitamin D added to them, for instance some breakfast cereals. The daily requirement is about 10 mcg – it’s hard to get that amount through the diet.
The current recommendations are that breastfed babies up to a year and children aged 1 to 4 should take daily supplements. Adults should consider taking supplements during autumn and winter months.
When someone is exposed to sunlight in the morning, it causes the body to produce melatonin earlier in the evening and helps you fall asleep more easily.
Lack of sunlight can be associated with low mood. Seasonal affective disorder occurs in people who have difficulty regulating the chemicals in the brain that balance mood without the help of sunlight. People notice low mood and low energy levels over the winter months. Treatment is with combination of light therapy, medication, vitamin D and talking therapies.
We all know that excessive sun exposure means you can end up with sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. Risk times for high levels of UV light are summer months, particularly in the middle of the day. Reflection of sun increases the intensity of sunlight as well, eg. on snow or in the water.
Your risk is less, although not nothing if you have darker skin. If you’re anything like me and my kids – translucent white, freckly celts, then you are at highest risk.
Advice is to keep babies out of direct sunlight. Children and young people should cover up, spend time in the shade and use sunscreen – especially in the middle of the day. Adults should also be careful to avoid sunburn. Particularly those with pale skin.
So I guess it’s all about balance – get out and get some sun. It’ll make you feel better and sleep better. Take care of you and your kids skin and consider vitamin D replacement over winter.