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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Vitamin D from the sun for arthritis

Leading medical research charity encourages people to get out in the sun
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard

27th March 2012 - As spring sunshine makes a welcome appearance across the country, Arthritis Research UK is encouraging those at risk of vitamin D deficiency to get outside.

Arthritis refers to a group of painful diseases which cause inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Calcium and phosphorus are needed for bone health but in order to absorb these elements from the gut our bodies need vitamin D. Our main way to get this essential vitamin is through sunlight on our skin, which triggers a photochemical process that can synthesise the vitamin. This is why the charity is encouraging us to get outside.

The sunshine vitamin

Arthritis Research UK says a lack of vitamin D can result in bone loss, impairment of muscle function and an increased risk of falls and fractures. Britain’s frequently grey skies, particularly in winter months, may put millions of people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Arthritis Research UK medical director, Alan Silman, explains in a prepared statement: "Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones. Our advice to people is to ‘Step outside!’ as this is the best way to get vitamin D. When the days are sunny, go out for a few minutes and expose your face and arms to the sunshine. Don’t allow your skin to go red, and take care not to burn, particularly in strong sunshine, or if you have fair or sensitive skin. From June to August just fifteen minutes is generally enough time.”

Pigmentation affects the vitamin D synthesis in the skin, and darker-skinned people, such as those of South Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin, are at greater risk of deficiency.


Even though the clocks have changed to British Summer Time, Alan Silman says it will be a few more months before the sun’s UV levels are strong enough over Britain for our bodies alone to make enough vitamin D.

In the meantime he recommends people top up the vitamin D in their diet by eating more oily fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, pilchards and sardines, and foods ‘fortified’ with vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals and some margarines. He says people could also consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

The Chief Medical Officer for England recommends all pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people aged 65 years and over who are not exposed to much sun should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. Taking too much Vitamin D can be harmful, but anyone taking less than 25 micrograms or less a day will be safe.

Reviewed on March 26, 2012

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