Scottish warning over vitamin D levels

Woman sitting in the sun Sunlight on the skin helps generate vitamin D

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New leaflets are to be handed out urging people to make sure they get enough vitamin D.

Doctors are concerned people in Scotland are not getting enough of the vitamin from sunlight and are not topping up their levels with a healthy diet.

There is increasing evidence that a lack of vitamin D could be linked to cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Doctors are also concerned about a rise in the bone disease rickets.

Rickets is a rare condition which causes the softening and weakening of bones in children.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency, along with children under five, the elderly, the housebound and people with darker skin.

Analysis

There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how much sun you need to make enough vitamin D.

It depends on many things like time of day, time of year, location, cloud cover and more.

But the time required is typically less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn.

So, enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to give the benefits of vitamin D without raising the risk of skin cancer.

When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best.

People should get to know their own skin to understand how long they can spend outside under different conditions without risking sunburn.

About 10 to 15 minutes a day of sunshine is considered safe.

But in Scotland the sun is only strong enough to provide vitamin D between April and September.

If the body's reserves of vitamin D run out during the winter, they need to be topped up from oily fish, eggs, meat or a supplement.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "We know that in Scotland the winter sun is not strong enough to provide the minimum vitamin D needed for health - especially for those with darker skin.

"A significant proportion of the UK population has low vitamin D levels. This leaflet aims to ensure that those at risk are aware of the implications of vitamin D deficiency and know what they can do to prevent it."

She added: "Vitamin D is key to maintaining healthy bones. Young children have a high risk of deficiency and we are seeing an increase in reported cases of rickets in Scotland.

"These conditions are easily prevented by improving diet and taking a supplement if you are at risk.

"Recent research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may also contribute to a range of other medical conditions. The Scottish government are keen to continue to monitor this evidence."

'Shine on Scotland'

The health secretary is due to speak at the Shine on Scotland conference on Tuesday, which will bring together academics from across the world to consider the possible links between vitamin D deficiency and various health problems.

The event is taking place after schoolboy Ryan McLaughlin took a petition to the Scottish Parliament which called on ministers to produce new guidelines on vitamin D supplements for children and pregnant women, along with an awareness campaign about the issue.

Ryan took up the cause after watching his mother Kirsten suffering from MS.

He said: "It's amazing that I only launched Shine on Scotland early last year and so much has happened since.

"The petition lodged at the Scottish Parliament got great support and I'm really grateful to the Scottish government for being prepared to look at this issue.

"I hope the summit is a great success and that something positive can be done for people with MS and to prevent future generations from developing it."

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