Humans derive most of their vitamin D from sun exposure, and a little from oily fish, but has our awareness that too much sunshine can be bad for your skin caused the current vitamin D deficiency that is now so prevalent in the UK?

We know that vitamin D is important for our bones and teeth, but research is now showing it has many other beneficial roles. Although still classed as a vitamin, it is actually a hormone – produced in the skin in strong sunshine – and has a multitude of different roles. These include keeping our arteries healthy and strengthening our immune systems to kill abnormal cells that may develop into cancers.
Researchers in Europe and the US collaborated on a project that pooled results from eight separate studies including more than 26,000 men and women aged from 50 to 79. [1] During the periods covered, 2,624 participants died from cardiovascular disease and 2,227 from cancer. A meta-analysis of the data revealed that people with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D had nearly double the overall risk of death compared with those with high concentrations. Similar risk ratios emerged for deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer (in those with cancer history).
Whilst too much sun exposure that results in burning is clearly bad for your skin, sensible exposure will ensure you make healthy levels of vitamin D. Some occupations or cultural clothing traditions mean vitamin D levels may fall below that which is deemed necessary for good bone and immune health.
A simple skin-prick test can determine your vitamin D status. Contact Eleanor Strang at to find out more.
[1] Schöttker B, Jorde R, Peasey A et al. Vitamin D and mortality: meta-analysis of individual participant data from a large consortium of cohort studies from Europe and the United States.BMJ.2014; 348: g3656