Fair-skinned people may need extra vitamin D

Fair-skinned boy Protection against sunburn should remain the priority, says Cancer Research UK

Related Stories

Fair-skinned people who are prone to sunburn may need to take supplements to ensure they get enough vitamin D, say experts.

It appears that those with pale skin, while not deficient, may still be lacking in the essential vitamin that the body makes from sunlight.

The Cancer Research UK-funded team say that even with a lot of sun exposure, those with fair skin may not be able to make enough vitamin D.

And too much sun causes skin cancer.

Clearly, for this reason, increasing sun exposure is not the way to achieve higher vitamin D levels in the fair-skinned population, say the researchers. But taking supplements could be.

Their work examined 1,200 people.

Of these, 730 were found to have "lower than optimal" vitamin D levels - and many of these were people with very pale, freckled skin.

Extra boost

Start Quote

Fair-skinned individuals who burn easily are not able to make enough vitamin D from sunlight and so may need to take vitamin D supplements”

End Quote Prof Julia Newton-Bishop

Supplements are already recommended for groups at higher risk of deficiency. This includes people with dark skin, such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin, and people who wear full-body coverings, as well as the elderly, young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people who avoid the sun.

Based on the latest findings, it appears that pale-skinned people should be added to this list.

Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth.

A level less than 25nmol/L in the blood is a deficiency, but experts increasingly believe that lower than 60nmol/L are suboptimal and can also be damaging to health.

Most people get enough vitamin D with short exposures to the sun (10 to 15 minutes a day). A small amount also comes from the diet in foods like oily fish and dairy products.

But people with fair skin do not seem to be able to get enough, according to Prof Julia Newton-Bishop and her team at the University of Leeds.

Part of the reason might be that people who burn easily are more likely to cover up and avoid the sun.

But some fair-skinned individuals also appear to be less able to make and process vitamin D in the body, regardless of how long they sit in the sun for.

Hazel Nunn, of Cancer Research UK, explains how to increase vitamin D levels if you're pale

Prof Newton-Bishop said: "It's very difficult to give easy advice that everyone can follow. There's no one-size-fits-all.

"However, fair-skinned individuals who burn easily are not able to make enough vitamin D from sunlight and so may need to take vitamin D supplements."

Hazel Nunn, of Cancer Research UK, said: "It is about striking a balance between the benefits and harms of sun exposure.

"People with fair skin are at higher risk of developing skin cancer and should take care to avoid over-exposure to the sun's rays.

"If people are concerned about their vitamin D levels, they should see their doctor who may recommend a vitamin D test."

She said it was too soon to start recommending supplements, but said most people could safely take 10 micrograms a day of vitamin D without any side-effects.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Health stories

RSS

Features

  • chocolate cake and strawberriesTrick your tongue

    Would this dessert taste different on a black plate?


  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George leaving New Zealand'Great ambassadors'

    How New Zealand reacted to William, Kate - and George


  • Major Power Failure ident on BBC2Going live

    Why BBC Two's launch was not all right on the night


  • Front display of radio Strange echoes

    The mysterious 'numbers stations' left over from the Cold War era


  • A letter from a Somali refugee to a Syrian child'Be a star'

    Children's uplifting letters of hope to homeless Syrians


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.