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Have we taken the sun safe message too far?

I recently read an article in a Sunday magazine interviewing the beautiful Aussie actress, Cate Blanchett about her views for preserving and maintaining beautiful skin. There is no doubt the journalist’s choice in Cate Blanchett as a spokeswoman and icon for beautiful healthy skin was aptly chosen, however whilst her flawless complexion is undeniably a combination of blessed genetics, healthy diet and a scrupulous skin care regime (she is the face of skin care brand SKII after all), I was disturbed by the journalists extreme and unbalanced portrayal of the dangers surrounding sun expsoure - choosing fear based quotes such as 'sun exposure makes you look old and leathery' and 'we would all be a lot 'safer if we stayed away from the sun'.

There's no denying excess sun exposure can cause serious skin damage and premature ageing, as well as increase the risk for developing skin cancer and melanoma, however there is another epidemic at hand that is affecting our health on a far greater scale - primarily because the scales have been tipped too far in one direction.

I'm talking about the world wide vitamin D deficiency epidemic.

In Australia, our main source of vitamin D3 comes from sunlight exposure, but despite living in a sunburnt country, vitamin D3 deficiency is the underlying cause of a multitude of serious health problems and diseases. More and more Australians, Americans and Europeans are not receiving adequate vitamin D from casual daily sun exposure.

A combination of factors, including our work habits - over use of sun block, working longer hours indoors, travelling to and from work in low to zero sunlight, exercising at indoor gyms, eating at indoor food halls, even swopping the simple task of hanging the clothes on the outdoor clothes line has been substituted for the dryer.

Even more alarming is that this epidemic is now affecting our children, evidenced by a resurgence of the once rare condition - rickets (soft bones). The explanation? Embracing the sun safe message to the extreme, and the same can be said for adults. Using a sunscreen with an SPF of just 8, is estimated to reduce the skin's production of Vitamin D by 95%.

Vitamin D deficiency in children increases their risk for developing MS - Multiple Sclerosis and type 1 diabetes later in life, as well as obtaining their genetically programmed peak height and increasing tooth decay.

It is arguable those behind the sun safe advertising campaigns have been so successful in getting their message across, that many of us are now so sun phobic we don't dare let our children, or ourselves venture outside without lathering up in sun block and clothing from head to toe. Until very recently, the Australian 'Slip Slop Slap' campaign recommend we should never be exposed to direct sunlight without clothing a hat and sunscreen.

The human body actually needs direct daily exposure to sunlight to stay healthy.

By depriving it of daily exposure to natural sunlight, we are inducing a whole new set of health problems and disease as a result.

I'm talking about common cancers, CVD - cardio vascular disease, thyroid and autro immune disease, obesity and even infectious diseases. just to name a few. Vitamin D deficiency in adults has also been linked to many neurological conditions, including depression and anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer's. Vitamin D deficiency will also both precipitate and exacerbate osteoporosis and increased risk of hip fracture in older adults. So as mentioned in last week's post on cow's milk, those of you turning to your daily glass of cow's milk and cheese as a means for maintaining healthy calcium levels and prevent osteoporosis, you are better off addressing your vitamin D needs and using alternative dietary sources of calcium that don't carry the added risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammatory conditions such as food intolerances and IBS.

Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that cannot be manufactured by the body and is virtually nonexistent in our diet,

The only way to guarantee your vitamin D needs are being met is through:

1. Sensible sun exposure - between 10 am - 3pm, 5- 10 minutes in summer or before burning occurs and up to 45 minutes per day in winter without sun block and exposing your arms legs or abdomen.

2. Taking a vitamin D supplement

Ideally in liquid form for maximum bioavailability, combined with K2. I recommend supplementing children with 1000- 2000IU per day and adults will depend on their base level, but a safe general maintenance dose would be around 3000IU - 4000IU; up to 15,000IU per day in the case of a severe deficiency or in the case of treating chronic illnesses, like autoimmune diseases and obesity - but it is essential to monitor your blood level with regular for testing every 8-12 weeks to adjust your dose accordingly and prevent toxicity.

When choosing a sunscreen I recommend choosing a brand that is free from dioxins and contains a high percentage of zinc oxide, because this acts as physical sun block vs just a screen and is usually free of chemicals.

So whilst we should be careful to avoid exposing our skin to excessive amounts of sun during peak times, we also need to ensure we don't take the "slip slop slap" message to the extreme and avoid ALL sun exposure, or risk being victim to a growing list of diseases with strong links to vitamin D deficiency.

As a nutritionist I have tested thousands of patients blood vitamin D levels and at least 70% have returned a result that falls well outside of the desired target range. So do your health a favour and test your vitamin D levels next time you visit your GP and reduce your risk for developing the 4 common diseases - Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as thyroid disorders.

All Rights Reserved, Sally Joseph Copyright 2012

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