VI­TA­M­IND: THE FACTS

AS THE MER­CURY RISES, SO DOES THE DE­BATE ABOUT WHETHER WE GET ENOUGH VITAMIN D. SHER­INE YOUSSEF RE­PORTS

Sunday Territorian - - SUNDAY LIFESTYLE -

F eel that? It’s the heat gen­er­ated by sum­mer’s hot topic: Are we get­ting enough vitamin D, or have we slip, slop, slapped our way to a na­tional epi­demic of D-de­fi­ciency?

Pro­fes­sor Michael Kim­lin, a spe­cial­ist in the study of vitamin D and skin can­cer at the AusSun Re­search Lab at the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, sorts the facts from the fic­tion. A WHOLE GEN­ER­A­TION OF

AUS­TRALIANS SEEM TO

BE VITAMIN D DE­FI­CIENT

– WHY IS IT AN IS­SUE NOW? “We’re un­sure. Per­haps it’s al­ways been there, or we’re mea­sur­ing it more – peo­ple are hav­ing blood tests that check vitamin D lev­els. If we cast our minds back 50 or 60 years, our life­style has changed – we’re spend­ing more time in­doors, in front of the TV and com­puter, so the pat­terns of ex­po­sure to sun­light have changed.”

WHO’S MOST AT RISK OF

A DE­FI­CIENCY? “Those in south­ern ar­eas of Aus­tralia in win­ter; those with dark skin; those who wear lots of cloth­ing for cul­tural or re­li­gious rea­sons. That said, it can hap­pen to any­one. If some­one spends a lot of time in­doors, or has been sick, they should [con­sider] be­ing tested.”

IS TOO MUCH SUN­SCREEN

PART OF THE CAUSE? “Sun pro­tec­tion doesn’t stop peo­ple mak­ing vitamin D. Gen­er­ally, those us­ing sun­screen have high vitamin D lev­els be­cause they’re the ones spend­ing time out­doors. Be­cause melanoma and other skin can­cers are preva­lent here, and the sun does have a hugely ad­verse health ef­fect, we’d be wise to con­tinue our sun pro­tec­tion mes­sag­ing.”

IS THERE SUCH A THING

AS SAFE SUN EX­PO­SURE? “In the Aus­tralian sun­shine, [safe ex­po­sure] is min­utes, not hours, es­pe­cially in sum­mer. The ev­i­dence so far is that in­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure – such as when you’re at work and go out for a cof­fee – tends to be enough. For places such as Mel­bourne and Ho­bart in win­ter, [safe ex­po­sure] is hours be­cause their sun­light is much weaker, but oth­er­wise, min­utes in the mid­dle of the day are enough.” ARE SUP­PLE­MENTS AS

EF­FEC­TIVE AS SUN­LIGHT? “They are. Your body can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween vitamin D from a tablet and from the sun, and those who take sup­ple­ments tend to have higher lev­els than those who don’t. So they’re a good thing, par­tic­u­larly for those in colder cli­mates in the south. Even in sunny Bris­bane, those who take sup­ple­ments have higher vitamin D lev­els, on av­er­age, than those who don’t. But as with any over-the-counter sup­ple­ment, it’s a con­ver­sa­tion to have with your GP.”

WHAT’S A SUF­FI­CIENT

LEVEL OF VITAMIN D? “Re­search from the US gives a fig­ure of 50 nanomoles per litre. That’s a rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive amount, and most peo­ple in Aus­tralia do reach it, but there are cer­tain times of year, and cer­tain peo­ple, who may be be­low it.”

DOES THE SITE OF SKIN

EX­PO­SURE MAKE ANY

DIF­FER­ENCE? “There’s no ev­i­dence to sug­gest ex­pos­ing your chest, stom­ach or back is bet­ter than your face or hands.

Just get­ting out in the sun and rolling up your sleeves or trouser legs would be suf­fi­cient. The body is re­mark­ably ef­fi­cient at mak­ing vitamin D.”

CAN APPS THAT “TRACK”

VITAMIN D LEV­ELS HELP? “The Can­cer Coun­cil Aus­tralia’s Sun Smart app (suns­mart.com. au) is a good start­ing point. It gives rec­om­mended times in the sun, but also bal­ances that out with times to pro­tect your skin.”

WHERE’S YOUR RE­SEARCH

TAK­ING YOU NEXT? “We’re try­ing to fo­cus on ex­actly how we can main­tain suf­fi­cient vitamin D lev­els in Aus­tralia. Is it [down to] where you live – in the trop­ics or in Mel­bourne, Syd­ney or Bris­bane? Is it your skin colour? The clothes you wear or the food you eat? From that in­for­ma­tion, we hope to be able to help re­fine and bet­ter de­velop our mes­sages for pub­lic health of­fi­cials around vitamin D.”

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