For the last 30 years we have all had the message drummed into us regarding the dangers of sun exposure and the increased risk of skin cancer. But in recent years it has become clear that some of us are not getting enough of vital vitamin D – something that we all need for our health and yet can only come from the sun. How on earth do we balance this need for sun with the dangers it can pose and is there a link between vitamin D and skin cancer?
Why is Vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is essential for our health and it is now commonly thought that even a minor lack of it can lead to depression, aching bones, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal issues and even auto immune disorders, heart attacks and metabolism problems.
Vitamin D is stored in fat deposits, so a low body fat can also make it difficult to store enough. Because it is fat soluble, it can be stored for several months but does need to be topped up regularly throughout the summer months.
A study carried out by Otago University in NZ over the last three years has discovered 58 cases of rickets in children. This disease is associated with a lack of vitamin D and causes bone deformities. The researcher behind the findings has stated that he believes that this is the tip of the iceberg and that there could be many more cases.
It is worth remembering that the sun is not the only way to get Vitamin D. You can supplement with tablets or get it from certain foods such as fatty fish, some cereals and eggs. However it is worth noting that your body will not readily store vitamin D without fat – so taking it with something fatty such as olive oil can help in absorption.
Careful sun exposure
It is the ultraviolet B (UVB) part of sunlight that stimulates our skin to produce vitamin D, however, these are also the sun rays that cause sunburn and therefore melanoma . So extreme care needs to be taken to avoid too much of this type of sun. But if you wish to top up your vitamin D there are some rules you can follow:
· Expose your face and arms to direct sunlight for just 5-10 minutes three times a week throughout the year.
· If you live in a country that gets very little sun in the winter, you may wish to top up with a little extra during the summer months.
· Wear sunscreen or clothing to cover your skin at all times of the day apart from this minimal exposure.
Those at particular risk of skin cancer
If you have already had skin cancer or have skin moles that may be suspect, you should avoid any further damage and use supplements to keep your levels topped up. Don’t forget to check your moles regularly using our skin cancer app to ensure that any changes are noticed early.