Why just a little sunshine can help to prevent cancer
Published 08/08/2014 | 02:30
A lack of vitamin D has been linked to an increase in a number of serious illnesses, including cancer and multiple sclerosis, experts have warned.
Dr Noirin Noonan, a consultant in occupational medicine at St James's Hospital, said that a breakthrough in observational work in the last decade meant that medics no longer considered vitamin D as being almost exclusively associated with the health of bones, and had started to explore how it affected other areas in the body.
"It's realised that vitamin D is extremely important in immune function, and in other words, dealing with infections.
"And, then in particular, auto immune diseases where parts of your body are attacked," Dr Noonan told the Irish Independent.
She listed multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, thyroid disease, a variety of cancers, a specific type of heart disease, depression and SAD syndrome as some of the illnesses which may be triggered by a deficiency of vitamin D.
Dr Noonan said that through observational work that she carried out in the hospital, she observed that almost nine out of 10 people had a value less than 80, the level some would regard as the "optimum" vitamin D level.
She said that supplements remain a sufficient source of introducing it into your body, but that the sun is an excellent source and that by spending just a couple of hours in it, you can build up several weeks supply in your body. It is also thought that if you have more vitamin D in your body before the age of 15, some of the complications that arise from a deficiency are of a "low prevalence".
The Alzheimer's Association of Ireland said that a study which was carried out by researchers at the University of Exeter found that those with low levels of vitamin D in the blood were more than twice as likely to develop any form of dementia. People with severe deficiencies were found to be 125pc more at risk.
The study involved 1,658 individuals aged over 65, who had no form of dementia at the outset of the study.
However, after an average of six years, 171 participants had developed dementia and 102 had Alzheimer's Disease.
In addition to this, people who had a lower level of vitamin D were almost 70pc more likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease.
Tina Leonard, head of advocacy at the organisation, welcomed these findings as she believes the research may lead to "early intervention steps".
"These findings are extremely encouraging and positive, however, before anyone can claim that exposure to sunlight or incorporating oily fish or vitamin D supplements into a daily diet can have a significant impact on preventing dementia from developing, I think more large scale trials are needed," she said.
She said the growing prevalence of the conditions are a "ticking time-bomb". There are currently 48,000 people living with dementia in Ireland, and this figure is expected to rise to 132,000 by 2014.