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Vitamin D deficiencies blamed on our fear of sunshine

Sunbathing has long been portrayed as a dangerous pursuit that raises the odds of skin cancer and ages us prematurely. But now it seems we have been taking the message a bit too seriously. A study suggests that our aversion to the sun is making us deficient in vitamin D, a compound credited with a host of health benefits from protecting against cancer to strengthening our bones.

The British Association of Dermatologists recommends 15-20 minutes of sun a day. Researcher Veronique Bataille said: 'There has been so much effort put into telling people about the damaging effects of ultraviolet light from sunshine, many now take extreme measures to ensure they don't get exposure by wearing moisturisers with factor 15 all year round.'

Dr BatailleDr Veronique Bataille, a dermatologist and skin cancer expert, wants guidelines on sunbathing to be reviewed to ensure people don't miss out on vitamin D. Known as the 'sunshine vitamin', it is made when our skin is exposed to sunlight. As well as protecting against some cancers and osteoporosis, it can help ward off Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis and boost the immune system. Although the vitamin is found in some foods, the vitamin D in our bodies largely comes from exposure to sunlight, and many of us simply do not have enough. Research from University College London found that 20 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men are deficient in the vitamin. And a separate study of more than 1,400 British women by Dr Bataille, of King's College London, linked low levels with fear of sunbathing.

Dr Bataille told the Sunday Telegraph: 'It is potentially harmful if people are getting the message that they should completely avoid the sun. 'The advice needs to be better tailored to the differences in skin type and sun levels around the country.' The British Association of Dermatologists, which recommends 15 to 20 minutes of sun a day, blamed the deficiencies on the British climate and indoor lifestyles.

Sara Hiom (CORR), of Cancer Research UK, said: 'To make enough vitamin D, we don't need so much sun that we redden or burn - little and often is best. 'People should be aware of their skin type and tendency to burn. If you have fairer skin you need less time in the sun than people with darker skin. 'People can also top up their vitamin D levels by eating foods like oily fish and some cereals.

By Fiona Macrae - Mail Online. Last updated at 2:08 PM on 09th August 2009


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