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Vitamin D supplements tablets and sun exposure

Vitamin D supplements are often necessary for older people living in northern latitudes and for darker skinned people who need extra time in the sun but wear clothes that cover their skin, and therefore are not getting as much sunshine as they require.
Vitamin D is regarded as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. Vitamin D deficiency, also known as VDD, is a pandemic. It is related to lifestyle, clothing and environment. Predisposing lifestyle includes reduced outdoor activities, clothing covering the body from head to foot and environmental air pollution that reduces exposure to sunlight.
Sunlight is required for ultraviolet B (UVB) induced vitamin D production in the skin. It is an important public health issue because we need a lot more than we realise for our skin, our bones, and our heart. There are foods containing vitamin D, but supplementation can help.
Vitamin D can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D2 is the vitamin obtained from UV radiation of a yeast sterol and is found in the sun exposed mushrooms. UVB light from the sun strikes the skin and humans synthesise vitamin D3 which is a regarded as the natural form. We humans do not make the vitamin D2 (you probably realise we are not mushrooms!), and therefore we have to rely on vitamin D3 from sun synthesis and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Vitamin D from the diet first has to go through the liver to be activated; therefore a lot of it is wasted. Vitamin D is required to help absorb dietary calcium and phosphorus and hence bone calcification and helps prevent osteoporosis.
The major source of vitamin D for both children and adults is exposure to natural sunlight. Therefore wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor 30 does reduce vitamin D synthesis in the skin and hence we recommend that you take vitamin D supplements. A sun protection factor 30 can reduce the vitamin D synthesis in the skin by more than 95%.
People with naturally dark skin tone have natural sun protection and require three to five times longer exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as a person with a white skin tone. These are the Fitzpatrick skin types 1 – 3, whereas the darker skins are 4 – 6.
Obesity is also associated with vitamin D deficiency because obese people often do not absorb their vitamin D well from dietary sources.
Heliocare capsules help protect and contain protection from photo-ageing. They do not contain vitamin D, but they contain a leucotomos leaf extract which protects the skin. Vitamin D supplements have to be taken orally, often as chewable tablets, 1000 IU a day, to help development and maintenance of healthy bone, teeth and skin health.
Jennifer Crawley is a Consultant Dermatologist at Clinica London with a special interest in dermatology. She is an expert in both adult and paediatric dermatology and has particular interests in research, teaching and leading audit projects.

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