BST Means Vitamin D

Published on 25 March 2012
A plate of salmon and vegetables

Leading medical research charity Arthritis Research UK is using the first day of British Summer Time to remind groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency to beat Britain’s grey skies and top up their levels of the essential ‘sunshine’ vitamin.

The main source of vitamin D is through the action of sunlight on our skin, hence its ‘sunshine’ nickname. It is essential to help the body absorb calcium from food and low levels can cause serious problems with bone health. A lack of vitamin D can result in bone loss, impairment of muscle function and an increased risk of falls and fractures, and Britain’s frequently grey skies, particularly in winter months, may put millions of people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

The Arthritis Research UK recommendation follows the CMO’s advice earlier this year. Those at risk include people over the age of sixty-five; pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged six months to five years old, and those who rarely go outside.
Pigmentation affects vitamin D synthesis and darker-skinned people, such as those of South Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin, are at greater risk of deficiency. It is among these groups that the UK has seen recent cases of children with rickets.

Arthritis Research UK Medical Director, Alan Silman, explains:

“Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones. Our advice to people is to ‘Step outside!’ as this is the best way to get vitamin D. When the days are sunny, go out for a few minutes and expose your face and arms to the sunshine. Don’t allow your skin to go red, and take care not to burn, particularly in strong sunshine and if you have fair or sensitive skin. From June to August just fifteen minutes is generally enough time.”

“The country may have changed its clocks to British Summer Time but it will be a few more months before the sun’s UV levels are strong enough over Britain for our bodies alone to make enough vitamin D.

“In less sunny months, we recommend that people top up the vitamin D in your diet by eating more oily fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, pilchards and sardines, and foods ‘fortified’ with vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals and some margarines. You could also consider taking a vitamin D supplement.”

There is significant research to suggest that bone strength starts at birth or even in the womb. Arthritis Research UK is currently funding research at Southampton University to prove that giving vitamin D supplements to pregnant women who are deficient in the vitamin can increase the bone density of their babies at birth and reduce the risk of their babies developing osteoporosis in later life.

For more information about vitamin D and bone health visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org. If you are concerned about your levels of vitamin D visit your GP.