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Vitamin D needs rise as UV levels drop in Victoria

Wednesday 27 May, 2009

Victorians should now be checking how much sun they need to ensure they get enough vitamin D over winter, according to SunSmart.

Vitamin D is important for general health, in particular bone and muscle health, and is largely created in the body as a result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

SunSmart Manager Sue Heward said sun protection requirements change in Victoria over the winter months and it is important to get more UV exposure to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.

"From May to August UV levels in Victoria generally drop below 3 when it is unlikely to cause skin damage or contribute to the risk of skin cancer."

"To maintain enough vitamin D during these months, it is recommended that most people expose their face, arms and hands (or equivalent area of skin) to the sun for two to three hours over the week."

"However, children and adults with naturally very dark skin need three to six times the UV exposure and may not be able to maintain adequate vitamin D levels, especially over winter. They should have their blood levels checked and vitamin D supplementation may be required," she said.

Professor Peter Ebeling, Medical Director of Osteoporosis Australia and Head of Endocrinology, University of Melbourne at Western Hospital, said other groups of people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency and may also need supplementation.

"As well people with naturally very dark skin, those likely to be at risk include babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers, especially breastfed babies, people who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons, patients with osteoporosis, older Victorians and people who are housebound or in institutional care."

"Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, heart disease, infections and auto-immune diseases, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, although more research is needed for any conclusive evidence to be derived," he said.

Professor Ebeling said while there are groups who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, the majority of people should be able to maintain sufficient levels.

"If in doubt, vitamin D levels can be checked through a blood test, and inadequate levels can be easily treated with supplements. People should not try to boost their vitamin D levels at any time of the year through excessive UV exposure or through using solariums," he said.

Ms Heward said there are some exceptions to SunSmart's advice to put sun protection gear away from May to August.

"People who are spending time at high altitudes or near highly reflective surfaces such as snow and water will still need to use sun protection, as skin and eye damage can occur in these situations. To find out UV levels check the SunSmart UV Alert at or in the weather section of daily newspapers," she said.

Ms Heward said there is a need to balance the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure with maintaining adequate vitamin D levels.

"Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. More than 1,600 people die every year from skin cancer and two out of three Australians will get skin cancer before the age of 70. "

"Being SunSmart will help ensure the risk of skin cancer is reduced and adequate vitamin D levels can be maintained," Ms Heward said.

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