Written by Mr Siva Kumar for Doctify

The British weather is in constant change, and the summer months seem fleeting. But does a lack of sun cause low levels of vitamin D? Doctify Specialist Mr Siva Kumar explains why you need vitamin D, where you can get it naturally and whether it might be time to start taking vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D is required by your body for maintaining many functions. These include healthy bones, nervous system, muscles and the immune system. There is a growing body of research that suggests vitamin D also has an important role in the prevention of many types of diseases, including skin cancer recurrence. In the UK, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends in their guidelines that anyone diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma) should take vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D foods

Vitamin D can be found in certain foods, such as oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), egg yolks and cheese. However, it’s very difficult to get all the required vitamin D through natural food sources. Your body relies on its own skin to make the remainder of the required vitamin D. It does this through exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D deficiency

People most at risk of having low levels of vitamin D include:

  • People with limited sun exposure – for example people with occupations that keep them indoors or those who are avoiding sun for medical reasons.
  • Older adults – with age your skin becomes less efficient at making vitamin D.
  • People with darker skin – the larger amounts of pigment reduce the ability of the skin to manufacture vitamin D.

Should I take vitamin D?

Guidelines suggest 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure bi-weekly. This is enough to replenish your body’s vitamin D supply. You may find getting this amount of sun difficult during the winter months when the days are shorter, and people are covered up to protect them from the cold.

These guidelines also pose a problem for people who’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer.  You may have been advised to avoid excessive sun exposure, cover up your skin, sit in the shade and wear high factor suncream. Doing so is important in order to prevent further skin cancers from developing, but could deplete your body of vitamin D. This, as mentioned, may be important in cancer prevention itself. Therefore, it’s for this group of people that over-the-counter vitamin D supplements may be of greatest benefit.

If you are concerned about low levels of vitamin D, you should speak to your doctor, pharmacist or a skin specialist. They may check your blood level if they think it’s appropriate. They can then advise you on the dose of vitamin D that’s best for you.

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