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The sunshine cure

With osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment all linked to vitamin D deficiency, it’s wise to monitor your vitamin D levels during winter.

An instant mood-lifter, natural antibacterial agent and source of renewable energy, sunshine is a miracle product supplied to the world at no cost.  It’s also the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to for humans to boost their vitamin D levels. 

Despite Australia’s reputation for being a sunburnt country, it’s been estimated that between 30-50 per cent of Australians are vitamin D deficient, with older people more likely to be impacted.

An important factor in the maintenance of good bone health, vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium and phosphorous needed to build strong bones. It also supports a healthy immune and nervous system, and is also thought to play a role in regulating insulin levels.

With the ramifications of chronic vitamin D deficiency considered to be very serious, vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for maintaining good health. But how do you know if you’re getting enough of it?


Solar power

When sunlight hits the skin, an important chain reaction is started within the body. The sun’s rays enable the body to create vitamin D (with the help of the liver and kidneys) which is then used by the body to promote absorption of calcium and phosphorous.

With calcium and phosphorous essential to the prevention of conditions such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia (bone softening), it’s incredibly important for older Australians to monitor their vitamin D levels.      

Osteoporosis Australia advises that a vitamin D level of at least 50 nmol/L at the end of winter (and up to 70 bmol/L in summer) is what we should be aiming for. Yet with winter’s grey skies and cool temperatures obscuring the sun’s rays and driving people in doors, it can be more difficult to get the recommended amount of vitamin D into your system.

People living in the Northern Territory and Queensland (they don’t call it the ‘Sunshine State’ for nothing) can keep their vitamin D levels replenished by exposing themselves to the sun for just a few minutes a day, all year round. Southern state dwellers typically require more prolonged exposure during winter, with a few hours a week recommended during the colder, darker months.


Seasonal supplementation

Short of packing up your life and moving to sunnier climates, there are other ways that you can boost your vitamin D levels during winter.

Some foods (such as egg yolks, salmon and liver) contain vitamin D, yet exposure to sunlight is the optimal way for most people to replenish their levels of this essential vitamin.

Many of us can make a conscious effort to roll up our sleeves and expose ourselves to a bit of sunshine each day but what about people who struggle to access enough sunshine to convert into vitamin D?

Older people who are housebound or living in aged care homes, people who take medication that interferes with vitamin D absorption, people with darker skin and people who cover their bodies for cultural, religious or medical reasons have a higher risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency.

These people are most likely to benefit from vitamin D supplementation with tablets or liquids easily accessed at pharmacies and supermarkets without a prescription. Yet, despite supplements being readily available over-the-counter, it’s unwise to take supplements without first having your vitamin D levels and general health assessed by a doctor.

If you’re concerned about your levels of vitamin D, your first port of call should be your GP. From there you can work together to devise a plan to ensure you stay on top of your vitamin D and maintain strong, healthy bones and teeth for life.