SunSmart urges Victorians to roll up their sleeves for winter vitamin D

Thursday 19 May, 2011

As we prepare for the onset of the colder autumn and winter months, SunSmart is encouraging Victorians to get some sun exposure to help with vitamin D levels.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer but also the best natural source of vitamin D, essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health.

SunSmart Manager, Sue Heward, said; "In Victoria, average UV levels are below three between May and August, making it a great time to roll up your sleeves and get some sun to help with your vitamin D levels."

"At this low level, the UV is generally not damaging to the skin and sun protection is not required unless in alpine areas, near highly reflective surfaces such as snow or if you are going to spend extended periods of time outdoors," said Ms Heward.

"People with fair to olive skin should aim for two to three hours of sun exposure to face, arms and hands or equivalent area of skin. Importantly your exposure time should be spread across the week not all at once. So if you're going for a stroll at lunchtime, roll up your sleeves and walk on the sunny side of the street."

Professor Peter Ebeling, Medical Director of Osteoporosis Australia and Head of Endocrinology, University of Melbourne at Western Hospital, warned that sun exposure may not be a sufficient source of vitamin D for some parts of the population.

"People with naturally very dark skin, babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers (especially breastfed babies), people with little or no sun exposure such as those who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons, older Victorians and people who are housebound or in institutional care are at risk of being deficient in vitamin D," Professor Ebeling said.

"The evidence is unequivocal- vitamin D is crucial for bone and muscle development and in the prevention of osteoporosis. There have also been links with an increased risk of bowel cancer, heart disease, infections and auto-immune diseases, although more research is needed for any conclusive evidence to be derived."

"If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, visit your doctor. Levels can be checked with a simple blood test and inadequate levels can be treated with supplements."

"Never try to boost vitamin D levels through excessive UV exposure or through using solariums as both are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, " he warned.

SunSmart emphasises a balanced approach to UV exposure from the sun and vitamin D supplements this winter.

"Given how the UV levels vary across the year in Victoria balance is definitely the key," said Ms Heward.

Check out the times that sun protection is required for your local area on the SunSmart website, some nightly TV weather news and in the weather section of the daily newspapers.

The SunSmart iPhone app is a handy, free tool that allows users to find out if they are getting enough sun from May to August to help with vitamin D levels and alerts the user of their daily sun protection needs.

For more information on vitamin D and resources for health professionals skin cancer, UV and sun exposure recommendations, go to www.sunsmart.com.au.

Updated: 19 May, 2011