The anti-skin cancer community has been concerned that the recent attention accorded vitamin D might prompt people to forego sun protection in order to obtain the benefits of what’s called the “Sunshine Vitamin.”
Now comes some evidence that this indeed might be the case.
Researchers from Queensland University of Technology in correspondence with Queensland Institute of Medical Research conducted an online survey to determine knowledge and attitudes about vitamin D and associations of these with sun protection practices.
Although nearly 70 percent of respondents had heard of vitamin D, responses showed a limited understanding of the vitamin: 18 per cent of respondents were unaware of the bone benefits of vitamin D, but 40 per cent showed knowledge of currently unconfirmed benefits.
The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recently, research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension or high blood pressure, cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.
Many of the new studies showing the benefits of vitamin D are what are called “observational” studies. The benefits of vitamin D observed in these studies may or may not be proved in more rigorous and controlled clinical studies.
Approximately 30 per cent of participants reported that they had no knowledge of vitamin D at all. Additionally, 11 per cent of those surveyed believed sun protection might cause vitamin D deficiency and were less likely to be frequent sunscreen users.
“Lack of knowledge about vitamin D is further illustrated by the high proportion of people who incorrectly identified foods as sources of vitamin D or were unaware that sun exposure leads to formation of vitamin D,” said researchers
Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. The flesh of fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel and fish liver oils are among the best sources Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. For example, almost all of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with 100 IU/cup of vitamin D. Other dairy products made from milk, such as cheese and ice cream, are generally not fortified. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals often contain added vitamin D, as do some brands of orange juice, yogurt, and margarine.
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The Queensland study is far from comprehensive. However, it is valuable in its suggestion that the public may be misinformed about sources and benefits of vitamin D and how to safely obtain them. In this sense, it goes some way toward confirming the fears of the anti-skin cancer community about the trade offs the public might be tempted to make between the risks associated with sun exposure and the fear of vitamin D deficiencies.
We will continue to follow this issue very carefully. In the meantime, please follow the advice outlined in SunAWARE. If you are concerned about a possible lack of vitamin D, see your health care provider and follow his or her advice. Be safe. Be SunAWARE.