NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Study shows vitamin D shortfall among north-east women

Girls sitting in the sun
Image caption In Scotland, the sunshine is only strong enough to provide vitamin D for six months of the year

Four times as many women are deprived of vitamin D in the north-east of Scotland as in the south of England, according to a new study.

Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, is created naturally in the body by exposure to the sun.

The study compared the amount of sunlight to which women were exposed.

In Aberdeen, 40% women had below minimum recommended amounts of the vitamin during the winter, compared to 10% in Surrey.

During the summer, 9% of women in the north-east of Scotland still lacked vitamin D.

Scientists from the universities of Aberdeen and Surrey compared sunlight exposure among 500 women in the two locations.

The participants, who were all between the ages of 55 and 70, were asked to wear a badge with a film that detected the amount of UVB rays to which they were exposed daily.

The study found those in Scotland received half as much sun as their southern counterparts and were "significantly" more deprived of UVB rays.

But in Scotland the sunshine is only strong enough to provide vitamin D between April and September, and Scots have been advised to top up their levels with a healthy diet.

'Strike the balance'

The researchers said the findings highlighted the need for better public advice on ways to boost vitamin D levels during the winter months.

Low levels can lead to rickets - a rare disease that causes the softening and weakening of bones in children - and has been linked to multiple sclerosis.

Dr Helen Macdonald, from the University of Aberdeen's Institute of Medical Sciences, said: "We cannot assume that winter requirements of vitamin D are met by the stores accumulated over summer if people do not get enough sunlight to make sufficient vitamin D.

"Dietary sources of vitamin D are important but the vitamin D status in the current diet of women in the UK is unlikely to be adequate.

"We need to look at appropriate guidelines regarding safe sunlight exposure, to strike the balance between ensuring adequate protection from the sun and obtaining vitamin D from UVB rays."

Last year, 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, whose mother Kirsten has been diagnosed with MS, had has some success in his campaign, with the Scottish government issuing leaflets in September advising people how to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

The latest study has been published in the Osteoporosis International journal.

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