Vitamin D and the sunshine conundrum

vitamin D

The beauty vitamin we all need.

If there was a vitamin that could be named universally as the beauty vitamin, then for me, vitamin D would be the one. Often called the sunshine vitamin, it’s actually a hormone which is stimulated when sunshine interacts with a type of cholesterol found in your skin.

This magical interaction should store vitamin D for when your body needs it. Great, that all seems simple enough, get a little sunshine and you’re good to go. And yet, we seem to be missing out...

Could you be deficient in vitamin D?

A routine blood test easily determines whether you’re deficient. But when was the last time you went to your GP and asked for this test? Or, when was the last time your GP suggested it? Once you hit your senior years, it’ll become a standard test because many oldies have a deficiency. Not enough time in the great outdoors and a diet of sadly lacking in nutrition will ultimately lead to a drop in vitamin D levels in the body.

It’s easy to fix, more sunshine and a good quality vitamin D3 supplement. Now, this is all well and good. In fact you can let out a sigh of relief, sort of…

I pose two questions: If someone is showing up as deficient in their seventies, eighties and beyond, how many years preceded this test where they were potentially deficient?  And, unknowingly suffering from various health issues because of it? 

Are we missing the signs?

Most of us have a vague understanding of why we need vitamin D. Right? Better bone health comes to mind. But how many of the signs of ageing like, poor balance, joint pain, fatigue (even after a good night of sleep), foggy brain or memory problems that can look like dementia and an increased risk in bone fractures are just accepted as getting older. How many of these ‘inevitable signs of ageing’ are linked to a long-term deficiency in vitamin D? My guess? Far too many.

But hey, no need to worry, after all, you’re in your thirties or even the fabulous forties, you should be fine. Right? Well, medical research is beginning to reveal that many chronic diseases are linked to vitamin D deficiencies ranging from Auto Immune diseases including asthma and multiple sclerosis to worrying diseases such as breast cancer as well as chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and even the chronic pain of fibromyalgia can all be traced back to a deficiency in vitamin D (source: yourhormonedoctor).

The statistics are staggering, especially when it’s such and easy deficiency to resolve and yet for many of us, continues to go undetected. 

Is it too much sun protection or something else? Vitamin D

A couple of years ago, in my early 50’s I asked my GP to include a test for vitamin D in a round of standard blood tests and, to my surprise, I was indeed deficient in the sunshine vitamin. You may think, as I am an avid user of SPF come rain, hail or shine, there would be no shock in this news.  But I was of the opinion, as I lived in Australia and despite the daily use of sun protection I was somehow immune to this deficiency. So it was a sunshine conundrum I found myself in. Go out in the sun, but protect yourself from sun damage?

Some say you should spend at least a few minutes every day in the sun during summer to build up your stores of vitamin D to see you through the winter months when there is less sunshine and a lot less time (for most of us) outdoors.

But I’m wondering if more and more of us are becoming deficient earlier in life, is it because of too much sunscreen or in actual fact, are we all spending a lot more time in front of our computers instead of out in the sunshine. Shopping from home, instead of walking the high street? Have we become modern-day cave dwellers? Perhaps

Three things I did about my own vitamin D deficiency.

Based on the advice from my GP I commenced with a supplement of Vitamin D3 (the safest option). I made sure my diet included the whole food sources such as eggs, mushrooms and oily fish. I swapped out low-fat dairy for full fat. Dairy products are a great source of vitamin D but not-so-much when most of the fat content has been removed.

But did I change my sunshine habits?

Not completely. I will never go a day without sun protection and if you have read any of my articles on the sun, then you know I’ve been on this crusade for years and for me, it has been a brilliant investment in the health of my skin. But, I cannot ignore the importance of vitamin D. So I choose an SPF15, which allows for some UVB and I switch to SPF30 during the hottest months of the year or when I know I will be spending more time than usual out in the sun. 

I’m not bulletproof and neither are you.

It’s good to know it doesn’t take long for your vitamin D supply to get back up to a normal range but don’t be misled as I was in thinking living in a sunny part of the world protected me. Although I will say this, at the time of my discovery I was in the full throes of caring for my Mum and at times my own nutritional needs and lifestyle suffered dramatically. So, while putting someone else’s needs before my own I was creating the perfect storm for this deficiency to occur. It’s also worth noting that my Mum who was suffering severe dementia in her early 70’s and was found to be quite deficient in vitamin D. I often wonder how long, how many years had this deficiency of vitamin D played a part in my mother’s health issues? I still wonder. Food for thought? I think so. 

What next?

I highly recommend getting a simple blood test for vitamin D next time you visit your GP regardless of your age or how much sun you get.  It can’t hurt to know and then take the steps to safeguard yourself. It’s an important health and wellness issue and shouldn’t be ignored. If our lifespan is now longer than it’s ever been, then, I don’t know about you, but I want it to be a long time healthy and suspect vitamin D is part of this story of longevity. If you want to know more I have written about it here and over here

And now you.

So I’m curious. Have you considered testing for vitamin D or has your GP ever suggested the test despite your age? Or if you think this may help someone else, then please share this story with them by clicking on one of the social media links below this article. 

 See you next time, 

The Beauty Issue