A team from Aberdeen University is exploring the links between vitamin D and a range of health problems, following the discovery that between 30-40% of adults tested in the North of Scotland in winter have lower levels of vitamin D than anticipated. Vitamin D is generated in the body when the skin is exposed to natural summer sunlight, but in winter we don’t get the type of light needed for making vitamin D (UVB), so we rely on what we made in the summer.

Poor summer weather can lead to a failure to reach the recommended dose. The vitamin is essential in regulating the uptake of calcium and phosphorus in the body, making strong bones. Professor Helen Macdonald explained, ‘The relationship between vitamin D and a number of health problems is complex. For example, Scandinavians get less UVB-containing sunshine than people living here, but have higher levels of vitamin D. It could be down to an outdoors lifestyle, eating more oily fish, or other factors. ‘Low levels of vitamin D are associated with softening of the bones. There seems to be a link between vitamin D, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems, but further research is needed.

Researchers are also examining the impact vitamin D has on the immune system and auto-immune disease. We’re currently exploring whether you can get the same health benefits with dietary vitamin D, or if only natural light will work. ‘It’s possible to boost vitamin D levels through diet, using oily fish or eggs. Margarines and some breakfast cereals are also fortified. You can also take dietary vitamin D supplements, but a sunbed won’t boost your levels as they mainly supply UVA rays. ‘About 10 minutes exposure to the sun, once or twice a day, is ideal, keeping in mind that it’s important to cover up and not risk burning.’

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