Vitamin D

Reporter: Natalie Bonjolo

After years of being told to slip slop slap, we're now being urged to soak up some sun.

Despite our reputation, for being a sun kissed nation incredibly, many of us aren't getting enough of what's known, as the "sunshine vitamin"

Dr Richard Choong, from the Australian Medical Association suspects, many of us are lacking in Vitamin D, without realising it. "Some people when they are vitamin D deficient they experience muscle pain, bone pain, but the majority of people we find they have no symptoms"

It's estimated one in every three of us, are low in vitamin D, and the potential health effects are alarming recent research links the condition to dementia, multiple sclerosis, cardio vascular disease, and cancer. But the greatest risk is brittle bones. "If we have a low vitamin D level then more calcium will come out of the bones, the bones will get weaker, and that leads to osteoporosis"

Experts fear, we won't really see the ramifications of the vitamin D decline until it's too late as the next generation of sun smart youngsters get older. "It's really important in children, that is the time when we are actually accumulating calcium in our bones and growing the most"

Alex Baatjes was twelve weeks pregnant, when a routine blood test revealed a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Like most sufferers, Alex was unaware of the damage being done, not only to herself, but also to little Ava. "I was so deficient that is I didn't get enough vitamin D it was going to cause problems for my bones, but not only mine, my unborn baby's as well" Alex is now under doctors' orders to catch some rays every day. "I was told i need to spend at least half an hour in the sun every day"

"It's about getting the balance right" Chairman of the National Skin Cancer Committee, Terry Slevin, knows it's a risk, messing with the sun smart message. "We know Australia is the world champion when it comes to skin cancer unfortunately"

Two out of three of us will develops skin cancer by the time we're seventy, and each year almost two thousand Australians will die from the disease.

So how do we weight up the benefits of sunshine, versus the risk of skin cancer? The Cancer Council have come up with a formula, depending on where YOU live:

In winter ... those living in the southern parts of Australia, from Perth, right across the country to Sydney, ... need thirty minutes a day of sunshine, on your face and arms, between ten o'clock in the morning, and two in the afternoon.

In autumn and spring, you need just twenty minutes in the sun.

In the summer months, just a few of minutes a day is enough.

For those north of the line ... no more than a few minutes of exposure a day, all year round.

New technology is now being used to track people's Vitamin D intake safely, it's a free phone app ... which lets you know when you've had your daily dose, depending on your skin type, location, time of day, and UV count.

While sun is purest way to produce vitamin D, it's also found in oily fishes, such as tuna, mackerel, salmon and trout. As for Alex, whose levels are still dangerously low, she'll need supplements every day. But the experts agree, sunshine is the best medicine so long as you do it safely.

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