Dr Robyn Lucas, Associate Professor at the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment wearing a watch which measures exposure to light. Photo: Graham Tidy
The end of daylight saving and steady march to winter may have health implications for people with Vitamin D deficiency, according to an Australian National University Medical Professor Dr Robyn Lucas.
The Associate Professor within the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment has recently begun a major research trial into sun exposure and Vitamin D deficiency, which will continue throughout the year.
She warns that the winter months may exacerbate the vitamin deficiency in some people and that some exposure to natural sunlight is recommended.
One hundred Canberrans have already been conscripted to the study which monitors every day sun exposure on a variety of skin types to examine seasonal difference in Vitamin D levels. Participants wear a watch which constantly measures their sunlight exposure and keep a diary of their time outdoors.
A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to increased risk of rickets (in children), osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and possibly diabetes. Indoor workers who get little sun exposure are at risk of vitamin D deficiency - a simple blood test is available through GPs, to detect any problems with Vitamin D levels.
“The danger with low Vitamin D is that the body tries to keep its calcium levels up by drawing the calcium out of bones and this can weaken them,” Dr Lucas said.
“It is certainly not uncommon here in Canberra where Capital Pathology finds about 100 people per day have levels below average.”
Dr Lucas said that while SunSmart policies provided for adequate vitamin D exposure, people who avoided the sun altogether risked potential deficiencies.
In the colder months, time spent in doors during the day could mean people absorbed very little sunlight and she cautioned that everyone should get a few minutes of exposure each day.
“It's always a case of finding a happy medium. Kids outdoors wearing hats and using standard sun protection will not be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, but office workers who spend their daylight hours inside - arriving at work in the dark and leaving in the dark - could be at risk.”
These sorts of workers are advised to spend some time outdoors during the day.
“Even just walking around for twenty minutes, half an hour at lunch time would be good,” Dr Lucas said.
But in the summer months, Dr Lucas backed the standard SunSmart guidelines.
“Getting sunburned is no good for anything as prolonged sun exposure actually breaks down the Vitamin D that you produce.”
“It's about being sensible.”
This month the study sample should be finalised, with results expected next year.