By Dr Punam Krishan

Vitamin D- why sunshine is the best medicine

1 in 5 of us aren't getting enough! Vitamin D deficiency is becoming a significant health issue, especially in the UK. In fact, we know that around 1 in 5 people are lacking in this very important vitamin, which is responsible for keeping our bones, muscles and teeth healthy.

Our body makes Vitamin D from exposure to direct sunlight on our skin and we need it as it allows our body to absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet.

When we don't have sufficient levels of Vitamin D in our body, we start to experience bone pain, muscular pains and our bones can become weaker. In severe cases, adults can develop a serious condition called osteomalacia, and kids can develop rickets.

How do we get Vitamin D?

If only I could prescribe a sunny holiday to every patient.... but sadly I can't, so I advise people that the single most important thing you can do to bump up your Vitamin D levels is to spend daily time in direct sunlight.

Between March and October, in the UK, we should be able to get sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from spending around 20-30 minutes outdoors (especially between 11-3pm). Yes it can be cold a lot of the time, but the sun is the best medicine and it's totally free! Ideally the more skin exposed to the sun, the more Vitamin D you will get.

People with a darker skin colour - African, African-Caribbean and South Asian- need to spend longer in direct sunlight to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D.

Please note though, it is critical that you use sun protection if planning to spend more than 30 minutes in direct sunlight to prevent risk of skin cancer, especially if it's warm.

Some days you need to create your own sunshine..

You do need to be outside to get the full effect. Sitting by a window does not give you any vitamin D, as glass doesn't let UVB rays through, which is what you need to help make Vitamin D. So, if you can't get time in the sunshine, you can also supplement vitamin D through your diet.

Foods such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines etc.), red meat, cereals, milk (dairy or alternative) and mushrooms all contain vitamin D.

I do advise patients to take a daily supplement too, because we simply don't get enough of the above. The recommended daily amount is 10mcg and you can buy this in any supermarket, pharmacy or health store.

Do check with your GP if you have any concerns.