Vitamin D and the sunshine conundrum

vitamin D

The beauty vitamin we all need.

If there were 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, stimulated by exposure to the sun it’s a hormone that 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 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 the questions: If someone is showing up as deficient in their seventies, eighties and beyond, how many years preceded this test? Were they potentially lacking for much longer?  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. Better bone health comes to mind. But how many of the signs of ageing such as; poor balance, joint pain, fatigue (even after a good night of sleep), foggy brain or memory problems resembling dementia are caused by a vitamin D deficiency? How many of these ‘inevitable signs of ageing’ are connected to a long-term shortfall 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 a connection between vitamin D deficiencies and chronic illness, ranging from Auto Immune Diseases (including asthma and multiple sclerosis) to worrying diseases such as breast cancer. The list goes on, chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and even the debilitating pain of fibromyalgia. All can 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 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 getting this news. But I thought, as I lived in Australia and despite the daily use of sun protection I was somehow immune to this deficiency.

What a conundrum. 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.  Seeing you through the winter months when there’s 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, because we are wearing too much sunscreen or in fact, we’re just spending a lot more time in front of our computers instead of out in the sunshine. Are you shopping from home, instead of walking the high street? Have we become modern-day cave dwellers? Perhaps

Three things I did about my 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 whole food sources such as eggs, mushrooms and oily fish. I swapped out low-fat dairy for full fat. 

But did I change my sunshine habits?

Not completely. I will never go a day without sun protection and if you’ve read any of my articles on the sun, then you know I’ve been on this crusade for years and, for me, it’s been an investment in the health of my future skin. But, I can’t ignore the importance of vitamin D. 

On most days, I choose an SPF15, which allows for some UVB and in the hottest months and days of the year I switch to SPF30 during the hottest months and days of the year.

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. Living in a sunny part of the world did not protect me from a deficiency. 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 many years had this undetected deficiency of vitamin D played a part in my mother’s health issues? I still wonder. Food for thought?  

What next?

I highly recommend getting a simple blood test for vitamin D next time you visit your GP. Consider this regardless of your age or how much sun you get. It can’t hurt to know and then take steps to safeguard yourself. It’s a significant health and wellness issue. If our lifespan is getting longer then, I want it to be a long time healthy, and I suspect vitamin D plays a vital role in our 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 by clicking on one of the social links below this article. 

 See you next time, 

The Beauty Issue