By Graham Pembrey
Summer is on the horizon and it is only natural that many of us will be reaching for the sun cream, in an attempt to keep our pale British skin from burning in the heat. One thing that many of us will not realise as we do so, however, is that while sun lotion blocks out harmful rays from the sun, it also prevents our bodies from absorbing an important vitamin that helps us to fight off obesity.
You see, while excessive sunshine might burn us, sunshine is also an important source of what is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – vitamin D. Vitamin D has many benefits. It helps bone growth, prevents depression, and aids weight loss. When we lack in this vitamin, our bodies can suffer. As can our emotions – which is one of the major reasons why seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD, affects many people in the cold season, giving them the ‘winter blues’.
There is some good news for people who want to tan without burning, but also want to avoid obesity; vitamin D can be found in certain foods including oily fish, eggs and dairy products. The vitamin can also be found in margarines, and in cod and liver oil. By eating plenty of these foods, it may be possible to make up for some lack of exposure to sunlight. Still, you should try to get at least 10 to 20 minutes of sunlight most days.
By Rod Chaytor
Helen’s shock at diagnosis
A health conscious nurse has been diagnosed with rickets after covering herself for years with factor 50 sun block.
Helen Smith, 38, suffered excruciating joint pain and extreme tiredness for almost a decade before doctors realised what was wrong with her.
The mum-of-two had been blocking out the sun’s rays – and with it the crucial vitamin D they deliver to maintain healthy bones.
This led to an adult form of rickets – a condition causing bones to become soft and weak normally linked to the child victims of famine.
Fair-skinned Helen said: “I was absolutely staggered when I found the cause of all this had been because I was being too responsible in the sun.”
She started to feel ill about 10 years ago, around the time she began applying the sun cream.
Helen added: “I’d get really bad lower back pain which spread to my hips and shoulders. I’d be in terrible pain and unbelievably tired. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed.
“If I did make it to my job as a practice nurse I wanted to fall asleep as soon as I got home. My GP referred me to a physiotherapist, thinking I had some muscular problem. But it didn’t help.
“I also saw a gastroenterologist and rheumatologist, but all to no avail. And even though I’m a nurse myself I just didn’t know what it could be.”
Helen, who is married to 40-year-old handyman Dean, was finally sent for blood tests last year after a new doctor at her practice suspected she may be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.
She said: “She asked me about my sunbathing habits and when I explained that I was always extremely careful and would put factor 50 on my face or exposed skin at the first sign of sunshine, she felt certain this was behind my problem.”
Helen, from Birmingham, was found to have dangerously low levels of vitamin D and diagnosed with a form of rickets known as osteomalacia. She was put on a high dose of vitamin D tablets and says that, almost a year later, she is starting to feel better.
Helen added: “I thought I was being responsible by putting on sunscreen. I’d never even heard of vitamin deficiency and couldn’t believe I’d done this to myself.
“Now I try and get my 30 minutes of sunlight as soon as the sun comes out, after which I put on factor 15 sunscreen. I don’t want to be that ill again.”
RAYS ARE CRUCIAL
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for healthy bones and is almost wholly provided through the chemical reaction which occurs when ultraviolet rays from the sun directly hit the skin.
Professor John Monson, of the Endocrinology Centre at the London Clinic, said: “Understandably people are concerned about having too much sun because of the dangers of skin cancer.
“But there is a lot of surface area on the face and forearms and that is all the exposure you need for the body to make vitamin D.”
He added: “Unfortunately we are seeing more instances of insufficiency of vitamin D because people are not spending enough time outdoors.”