NZ Woman's Weekly

Vitamin D deficiency health risks

Vitamin D deficiency health risks

We all know the sun can be a killer. It can cause melanoma, which takes the lives of more than 300 Kiwis a year. Ultraviolet rays can also lead to other types of skin cancer which may not be fatal but can leave you disfigured.

Hopefully the sun smart message is getting through and we’re better at avoiding sunburn. However, staying out of the sun or covering up with clothing or sunscreen – while the best ways of avoiding skin cancer – may also be causing problems because we’re not getting the sunlight our bodies need to function properly.

We need the sun’s UV rays to kick-start a chemical and metabolic chain reaction in the body that produces vitamin D. This vitamin can also be obtained from food but the sun is the best and most efficient source. If you lack vitamin D you may increase your risk of:

  • Poor bone health
    Not getting enough Vitamin D can play a part in osteoporosis and rickets.
  • Multiple sclerosis
    This disease is more prevalent in places where there is less sunlight.
  • Some types of cancer
    Some studies show a link between low vitamin D and breast, ovarian, colon and prostate cancers, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • Type 1 diabetes
    A Swedish study shows that having sufficient vitamin D earlier in life may reduce the chances of this form of diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes
    Some research shows that low levels of vitamin D can be associated with metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart disease
    Having metabolic syndrome can also make you more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease – some studies have shown that people with this condition are often low in vitamin D.
  • Depression
    A lack of sunlight is known to play a part in SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Of course there are other downsides to the sun. Exposure to UV rays is linked to some eye conditions, such as glaucoma, and prematurely ages the skin. So what are we meant to do? According to many experts, there is not enough information at this stage to say what levels of sun exposure are safe. One thing they all agree on is that it is crucial not to get sunburnt. Some doctors suggest avoiding the sun during peak times of 11am to 3pm but getting some exposure (without sunscreen) to the light outside of these times.
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