Are you vitamin D deficient?

Good Health
Friday, June 3, 2011
Image: Getty
Brought to you by Good Health magazine

Could you be running low on the sunshine vitamin? Pip Harry finds out how to top up.

Vitamin D deficiency is the most common medical condition in the world. "Studies show a significant number of Australians have at least marginal vitamin D deficiency, with two studies showing rates of 43 percent in young women and 23 percent in the general adult population," says Dr Michael Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution (Scribe, $35).

Our aggressive sun safety and skin cancer awareness campaigns have saved countless lives, but they have led to Australians spending less time soaking up vitamin D.

How can we get our hit of 'vitamin daylight' without damAaging our skin? Holick gives us a 'D-brief'.

What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a hormone that plays a vital role in maintaining bone strength, as it helps promote calcium absorption. Deficiency in children can lead to rickets, which causes muscle and bone weakness and bone deformities. Deficient adults are at risk of bone and joint pain, falls, fractures, and muscle and bone weakness.

Vitamin D assists with metabolism, and benefits muscle, cardiac, immune and neurological functions as well as regulating inflammation. Studies indicate that this little wonder vitamin may also prevent or help treat a wide range of health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, arthritis, upper respiratory tract infections, flu and infectious diseases.

Research suggests that it could decrease the risk of pre-eclampsia and C- sections among pregnant women, and help fight Alzheimer's and dementia. "Essentially every tissue and cell in your body requires vitamin D," says Holick.

Who's at risk?
Do you slip, slop and slap no matter what the time of day or season? Cover your body and face for religious reasons? Spend long periods of time indoors (for example, shift workers)? Have dark pigmented skin? Are you over 60? Are you overweight or obese? You could be a candidate for vitamin D deficiency.

"Most people get their vitamin D from sun exposure," says Holick. "So if you avoid all sun exposure, and you're always wearing sun protection outside, then you're at extremely high risk."

Vitamin D deficiency is also showing up strongly in our children, says Holick. "It's getting easier to just stay out of the sun. Our kids are playing inside more and they're on the computers more. They're always being lathered up by their parents."

Topping up
Holick says that topping up your vitamin D levels is easy. Consider taking a supplement every day, drinking your fortified milk, eating your salmon and oily fish, and getting safe levels of sunlight daily and you shouldn't have any problems.

Also, continue wearing sunscreen during peak UV times and check with your GP if you fall into a high-risk group or feel like you may need a top-up supplement.

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