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What is vitamin D?
The sun's UV radiation is both the main cause of skin cancer and the best natural source for vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood. It is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health.
You can get a small amount of vitamin D from food (about 5–10%). Fish and eggs naturally have some vitamin D, while margarine and some types of milk have added vitamin D.
How much sun is enough?
Vitamin D levels change naturally with the seasons. In summer, most people make enough vitamin D because UV levels are high and we spend more time outdoors. During these months, most Victorians need just a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon for vitamin D levels.
From May to mid-August in Victoria, UV levels are usually below 3. This means sun protection is not recommended, unless you work outdoors, are near reflective surfaces (like snow), or outside for extended periods.
The body can only absorb a limited amount of vitamin D at a time. Spending extra time in the sun won’t increase vitamin D levels, but will increase your risk of skin cancer. Use the free SunSmart app to help remind you when you do and don't need sun protection each day.
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency does not always have obvious symptoms but without treatment there can be significant health effects. These can include bone and muscle pain, rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
Some people are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency including:
- People with naturally very dark skin. This is because the pigment (melanin) in dark skin doesn't absorb as much UV radiation.
- People who avoid the sun due to previous skin cancers, immune suppression or sensitive skin and those who have limited sun exposure, such as nightshift workers.
- People who wear covering or concealing clothing.
- People who spend a long time indoors, such as those who are housebound or institutionalised.
- People who are obese or have disabilities, diseases or medications that affect vitamin D metabolism, including, end stage liver disease, renal disease and fat malabsorption syndromes such as cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease.
- Breast-fed babies of vitamin D deficient mothers (formula milk is fortified with vitamin D).
People who may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency should talk to their doctor for advice.