For most Australians, sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D- helping us build strong bones, muscles and maintaining overall health. Seeing as there is no lack of sun in this part of the world, it’s staggering to think that over 30% of Australian adults have a mild to severe vitamin D deficiency.

Considering its importance, it’s time to understand what vitamin D is and why it’s so important.

What is vitamin D?

We’ve all heard of vitamin D- but do you know the science behind it? The term ‘vitamin D’ actually refers to a group of five fat-soluble steroids. The most important to human health are vitamin D3) and vitamin D2.

The major sources of vitamin D are sun exposure, specifically ultra-violet B (UVB) radiation, and diet.

When attained, vitamin D is processed by the liver. It then circulates in the blood, where it plays an instrumental role in helping the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate in the intestine.

This leads to the healthy growth of bone, in modulating the immune system and in reducing inflammation.

Why do I need it?

For many reasons! Low vitamin D levels has been linked to a number of disorders and diseases, from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, several types of cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.

Most importantly, vitamin D regulates calcium in the body. With calcium being the core mineral in bones, vitamin D is vital to the development and maintenance of strong bones.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone and joint pain- and to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, which affects over 1 million Australians, is a disease where bones lose minerals and become brittle, increasing the risk of breaks and fractures. Women over the age of 50 are particularly at risk.

Eggs in a basket

How do I get enough Vitamin D?

Sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D. However, depending on the season and your skin tone, the time spent outside with exposed skin (face and arms) caries. For example, it could be for a few minutes in the morning to a couple of hours during the middle of the day. You can refer to these guidelines for more information.

However, it is important you do not spend too much time in the sun without adequate protection. Prolonged exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Certain foods such as fatty fish, liver, eggs, margarines and some milk products contain vitamin D. However, diet alone cannot fulfil recommended doses. Most people only get 5-10% of their vitamin D from food. Additionally, daily exercise can also help the body to produce vitamin D.

In cases of low vitamin D levels, supplements may be needed. If you are concerned, consult your doctor who can check your vitamin D levels with a blood test.

As you can see, getting enough vitamin D isn’t so easy. But implementing little changes in your lifestyle can make all the difference. So, spend a little time in the sun, take a walk around the block and have some fish for dinner!