Researchers offer a ray of sunshine for those deficient in vitamin D
Sun-starved Irish people can still soak up enough rays during the winter to produce vitamin D, according to a new study.
It was thought that our dull winter and fleeting bright days did little to help us with our levels of the vitamin, which is important for bone health.
However, while rays are "much less in the colder part of the year, they are far from zero," said Fiona O'Sullivan, who was among the researchers from Trinity College and Ulster University.
Vitamin D is produced by the skin when it absorbs the sun's rays.
The researchers studied people over 60 years old who can have lower levels of vitamin D.
They found those who avoided the sun were more likely to be deficient in the vitamin compared to those who exposed their skin more.
People aged 60 to 74, who liked to be out in the sun, were less likely to have severe deficiency, even if they were not taking vitamin D supplements.
"These findings are especially important as the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in Ireland is quite high, especially among the elderly," said Ms O Sullivan.
"And although it might not seem like we get a lot of sunshine, in actual fact the sunshine we do get is still a very important source of vitamin D."
Interestingly, there were large differences in ambient UVB rays between the North and South of the country. They were 19pc higher in Mizen Head, west Cork compared to Malin Head in County Donegal.
The "sunny south east" also lived up to its reputation during the summer when sunshine levels were compared to those in the west.
The study pointed out that it is more difficult to synthesise vitamin D as people get older.
However, the findings also highlighted the important role that vitamin D supplements have in keeping older people at a healthy level.
The researchers said: "It is difficult to prescribe sunshine, as too much is a risk for skin cancer, and too little is a risk for vitamin D deficiency.
"It is much easier to follow black-and-white advice, such as do eat vegetables and do not smoke.
"With sunshine, everyone needs to aim for their personal 'right amount', which unfortunately changes all the time."