Vitamin D is essential for good bone health and may have other health benefits.
Vitamin D deficiency in infants and children can cause rickets, a condition in which there is bone and muscle weakness and bone deformities. In adults, vitamin D deficiency can result in muscle and bone weakness, falls and fractures (broken bones).
Most vitamin D is produced in the skin by the action of UVB rays from the sun.
A small amount of vitamin D is obtained from the diet. Foods which contain vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon, herring and mackerel), liver, eggs and foods which have been fortified (had vitamin D added), such as margarines and some milks.
Only a limited amount of sun exposure is needed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels and most people achieve this through their normal day-to-day activities. It has been estimated that fair skinned people can achieve adequate vitamin D levels in summer by exposing the face, arms and hands or the equivalent area of skin to a few minutes of sunlight on either side of the peak ultraviolet radiation (UVR) periods on most days of the week. In winter, in the southern regions of Australia where UVR levels are less intense, maintenance of vitamin D levels may require 2-3 hours of sunlight exposure to the face, arms and hands or equivalent area of skin over a week.
Sensible sun protection behaviour should not put you at risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. This means using the 5 ways of protecting yourself (wear a broad-brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing that covers as much of the body as possible, wrap-around sunglasses, and SPF 30+ sunscreen and seek shade) whenever there is a risk of skin damage from exposure to UVR. Protection is necessary whenever the UV Index is 3 or higher.
It is not recommended to use solariums to boost vitamin D levels.
Further information about sun exposure and vitamin D is available in the Osteoporosis Australia publication Calcium, Vitamin D & Osteoporosis: A Guide for Consumers.
Some people are at risk of not having enough vitamin D for good health:
- Those who have limited sun exposure due to being institutionalised or house-bound (particularly older people)
- Naturally dark-skinned people
- Those who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons
- Babies of vitamin D deficient mothers
- Those who are immunosuppressed (including organ transplant recipients).
For further information on the risks and benefits of sun exposure see: The Australia and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia, The Australasian College of Dermatologists and The Cancer Council Australia, Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure Position Statement.