Sunday, April 22, 2012


Vitamin D deficiency is rife in Melbourne at the moment. Half the people I know seem to have it, including me.

If you’re wondering why we need Vitamin D, it’s required for calcium and phosphorous absorption, among other things. Deficiency leads to rickets in childhood (bone malformations) and to osteoporosis in adults. There’s also an associated reduction in breast cancer risk with higher levels of Vit D.

Sunsmart campaigns are copping criticism lately as the cause of the steep increase, with high SPF sunscreens getting most of the blame. I don’t think that’s it at all.  How many people do you know who religiously slather on sunscreen daily, reapplying every few hours? If you’re anything like the folks I know, you slip, slop, slap when you’re at the beach or the pool, and maybe if you’re doing an extended stint of outdoor work. But when you go for a walk? When you pop out into the back yard to hang out the washing, take out the bins, or pull out a few weeds?  Sitting at an outdoor table having a coffee? I bet you don’t.

Nope, most of us are not overdoing the sunscreen. I get annoyed when news reports focus on sunscreen use as the cause of the problem, without delving any deeper. Yes, UV-B exposure is the easiest way to get adequate Vitamin D, but scaring people into throwing away their sunscreen is just irresponsible. Nasty sunburn and future skin cancers aren't things I want to risk happening.

My theory is that too many people simply don’t get outdoors much at all any more, therefore their sun exposure is extremely low. Nobody walks anywhere; they jump in the car just to grab a bottle of milk from the local shop. We’re not out in the back yard kicking the footy with the kids, because the kids are inside, glued to the TV or computer screen. Even municipal swimming pools around Melbourne have mostly been turned into indoor venues, I assume because it’s economically more viable to have a pool that’s usable year-round.

None of that really explains my own low levels of Vit D, since I regularly walk around my neighbourhood or to the milk bar, and I make a point of getting out of the office every day at lunch and wandering around the nearby shopping strip.  I would easily be getting more than the recommended amount of exposure to sunlight, which is something like 20 minutes a day in winter.

There is this though (I read this somewhere and now can’t find the link. Oops): Kidney or liver disease can impair the body’s ability to produce Vit D. Perhaps my not-quite-right liver is having an impact?

There’s also this, which is probably more relevant to most, and which I found here: Those living with chronic inflammation or disorders of the intestinal tract that affect nutrient absorption are also at risk of deficiency

Now that’s interesting. There’s mounting evidence that inflammation is a huge problem in developed countries, and is responsible for many of the major health issues we face. And much of it can be traced back to the crappy diets people in developed nations generally follow.  Basically, most people need to eat more fruit & veg, more Omega-3s, more antioxidants and less refined grains & sugars, caffeine and alcohol.

The gut disorders? Hmm. Some of that can undoubtedly be ascribed to diet too. I know that my IBS flares up if I overdo processed starches, alcohol or skimp on fresh fruit and veggies.

So perhaps if we all just lived generally healthier lifestyles – walked more, participated in some outdoor activities instead of spending so much time on the couch, and ate more fruit and veg, less grains, more good fats (particularly Omega-3s) and less crap overall, the incidence of vitamin D deficiency might seriously decrease. 

Meanwhile, I’ll be swallowing my little capsules daily plus still staying out of the sun between 10:00am and 2:00pm (or 11:00 and 3:00 in summer) and slip-slop-slapping when I’m outdoors for prolonged periods. My family history of skin cancer is something I take pretty seriously.

Have you had your Vitamin D levels tested? How did you rate?

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