With 2012 going down in history as one of the dullest summers on record, experts are warning that vitamin D deficiency will soon become a ‘major public health concern’. So why is the sunshine vitamin so important, and where can we go to get our recommended daily intake?
Vitamin D has been dubbed the "sunshine vitamin"
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, nutrients which are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.
People who are exposed to normal quantities of sunlight do not need vitamin D supplements because sunlight promotes sufficient vitamin D synthesis in the skin.
Around 20-30 minutes of sunlight 2-3 times a week is thought to be enough to make enough vitamin D in the summer months in the UK.
Lack of sunlight
However, figures from the Met Office show that the hours of sunshine in 2012 were 18 per cent lower than average of the last 30 years, and lower than at least any of the last ten summers.
And when the sun did shine, a combination of not playing outside, being driven to school instead of walking and constantly wearing high factor sunscreen meant that many children in the UK hardly saw it at all.
Professor Ratcliffe, from Swansea University, has warned that the 21st century lifestyle, compounded by the dullest summer on record, will probably result in a “record number of people with vitamin D deficiency”.
Vitamin D deficiency
A mild lack of vitamin D may not cause symptoms but can cause tiredness and general aches and pains. A more severe lack can put both adults and children at risk of bone conditions such as rickets and osteomalacia.
Professor Ratcliffe said: "The effects of low vitamin D levels in the body are very serious as adequate levels may be necessary to prevent common cancers, heart and autoimmune diseases, rickets, osteomalacia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression."
Pregnant women, children under five, over 65s and people with dark skin are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency.
Oily fish like mackerel is a good source of vitamin D
Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, believes that fortification of foods with the vitamin, along with use of supplements, is the best way for the country to combat the widespread problem.
But if you are worried about your vitamin D intake, you can buy supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods, particularly oily fish like sardines, tuna, salmon and mackerel.
Private health insurance could give you access to quick diagnostic tests and scans for a range of conditions, including those related to vitamin D deficiency. People who believe they may be deficient in vitamin D should speak to their GP.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012