Since vitamin D is largely produced via the action of sunlight on the skin, it was once assumed that deficiency wasn’t a problem in a sunny country like Australia. However, it’s now clear that many Australians do have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D.
Population groups in Australia who are at greatest risk of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Older people, particularly those who are institutionalised.
- People with dark skin.
- People who are obese.
- People who don’t expose their skin for religious and cultural reasons.
- People affected by certain health conditions, such as coeliac disease.
However many other people also have low levels of vitamin D. Research suggests that even in a sunny region like Queensland, more than 40% of healthy adults may have insufficient vitamin D levels. People living in the southern parts of Australia are even more likely to be affected, especially during the colder months of the year.
What are the consequences of low levels of vitamin D?
Inadequate vitamin D levels have been linked with a wide variety of health problems, including :
- Increased hair loss.
- Osteoporosis and osteopaenia.
- Increased susceptibility to fractures and falls in the elderly.
- Muscle weakness and non-specific musculoskeletal pain.
- Reduced immune function.
How can I make sure I get enough vitamin D?
Optimise your vitamin D levels by exposing your skin to sunlight on a regular basis. The recommended amount of sun exposure for adequate vitamin D levels varies according to where you live. To achieve healthy vitamin D levels it is recommended that people living in Darwin, Brisbane and surrounding areas have a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure on most days throughout the year. People living in areas like Sydney, Canberra and Perth need a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure on most days during summer and two to three hours per week during June and July.
Those who live further south (for example in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart or surrounding areas) need a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure on most days in summer, and two to three hours per week from May to August. Make sure to avoid sun exposure during the times of the day when UV rays are at their strongest. Instead, choose early morning or late afternoon as your times for catching some sunshine.
In addition, some people may benefit from taking vitamin D supplements. In most instances 1000 IU per day provides a suitable dose.