Hot Sun image (Prawny, Morguefile)
| Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for human health and in pregnancy for future baby health. As
very few foods contain vitamin D, our main source is the skin
synthesising it in the presence of sunlight. However, modern life has
meant that vitamin D is low in many people.
Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in many modern diseases:-
Women who give birth late in
winter in less sunny countries are especially susceptible to vitamin D
deficiency. This deficiency is passed on to their babies, and the
babies are even more at risk from these modern diseases.
- cancer (16 cancer types, including some of the most common types: breast, bowel, ovary, prostate)
- MS (multiple sclerosis)
- diabetes types 1 & 2
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- inflammatory bowel diseases
- bone diseases (rickets, osteoporosis, osteomalacia)
- menstrual problems
- dental decay
- autoimmune diseases (18 including asthma and food allergies)
Why is Vitamin D low in many people?
Prevention is the Key
- Climate - Countries where sunlight is low means people do not produce enough vitamin D.
- Technology - An indoor lifestyle - from our fascination with technology - obviously gives little sunlight.
- Sun Creams - It is the UVB rays of sunlight that create vitamin D. But, sun creams block out UVB.
- Fear - A fear of sunlight has been spread by cancer charities, the NHS (accessed 26 October 2016), and Government.
- Religion - In sunny
countries like Iran, where the women must be fully covered in public
since 1979, veiled women have considerably lower levels of vitamin
- Urbanisation -
Worldwide, the massive movement from rural to urban dwelling has led to
lifestyles where people are out in the sun far less.
- Migration - We evolved in sunny countries and our dispersal away from the equator has compromised our vitamin D levels. Also, darker skinned people who
live in lower sunlight countries are at a disadvantage as their dark
skin blocks the less intense sun and prevents vitamin D synthesis.
- Soak up the Sun. Those living in very sunny countries may need to avoid excessive exposure - see 'Sun Safety' below.
- Take supplements, especially during pregnancy. Have a daily multivitamin!
- Governments can give
free supplements to all pregnant women - it will save any health system
huge amounts of money (billions of pounds per year in the UK).
- Governments can also fortify staple foods with vitamin D.
Oliver Gillie in Sunlight Robbery says:
- Excessive exposure to the sun may cause sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer. Melanoma skin cancer
causes some 1,750 deaths a year in the UK but the cause of melanoma is not clear and it is possible that less
than half of these deaths may be attributed to sun exposure. Regular exposure to the sun seems to protect
against melanoma while irregular exposure increases risk. This is probably because vitamin D protects against
melanoma while excessive exposure to the sun causing sunburn may induce melanoma. A reduction in exposure
to sunlight in the UK, as recommended by the government, might actually increase the incidence of
melanoma rather than reduce it. Melanoma may occur on parts of the body such as the soles of the feet that
are seldom exposed to the sun. Other types of skin cancer which are directly caused by excessive exposure
to sunlight are very common. However they can generally be treated relatively easily and cause a few hundred
deaths a year.
- SunSmart, the UK’s skin cancer awareness campaign, originated in Australia which has a much sunnier and
hotter climate and an incidence of skin cancer about six times that of the UK. SunSmart advises the public to
cover up, seek the shade, and wear sunscreen. It fails to provide any advice suggesting that people should
sunbathe in order to obtain vitamin D. Anyone following the SunSmart advice in the UK risks becoming
deficient in vitamin D and so risks chronic ill health. The campaign is totally unsuited to British needs and should
- The SunSmart programme has made extensive use of the slogan: ‘There is no such thing as a healthy tan’. In
fact there is no scientific basis for condemning tanning which is a natural side effect of sun exposure.
Scientific evidence suggests that a deep tan actually protects against melanoma, although very rapid tanning
on holiday in fierce sun conditions may not be wise because of the risk of burning. Nevertheless the public
recognition of a tan as a sign of good health is almost certainly well founded. Further attempts by cancer
campaigners to suggest that a tan is unhealthy or that a pale complexion is desirable should be dropped.
- Take every opportunity to sunbathe wearing as few clothes as possible for up to half an hour or more per day
depending on skin type, previous exposure and time of day. But take care – sensitive skin may burn after only
a few minutes. Be ready to cover up or seek the shade to avoid baking or burning. Encourage children to undress
in the sun but take care that they do not burn.
- The importance of vitamin D for pregnant and nursing mothers and infants needs to be recognised as part
of any government policy on sunlight. The policy should encourage mothers to sunbathe and to allow their
children to play safely in the sun, while also encouraging mothers to make use of NHS vitamin drops. A
special campaign is needed to promote the use of these vitamin drops.
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