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Research roundup: Vitamin D

The role that vitamin D plays in helping to prevent osteoporosis has been made clearer in a study published by Japanese researchers.

Osteorporosis is a bone disease where thinning and loss of structureoccurs, often with ageing.

The researchers showed how vitamin Dsuppresses a protein involved in the process of bonebreakdown. It was previously known that vitamin D has a significanteffect on bone health because it stimulates calcium absorption in thegut.

The vitamin also has a role in reducing numbers of osteoclasts(bone resorbing cells). This information helps scientistsunderstand the vital role of vitamin D in bone health.

A molecule that our bodies use to make vitamin D is formed in theskin after normal exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Fishliver oils, oily fish and some dairy spreads contain some naturallyoccurring vitamin D, but in northern hemisphere countries where UVexposure is less, food is supplemented with vitamin D. Milk, breads andcereals are fortified in the US and Canada; dairy spreads, breads andcereals in Europe.

In New Zealand, we are usually able to receive our body's vitamin Drequirements from the sun's rays year round. We usually get enough vitamin D from our daily outdooractivities such as hanging clothes on the line, getting the post from theletter box and walking back and forth to the car.

Certain groups of New Zealanders may especially be deficient in vitamin D:

  • those leading nocturnal lifestyles
  • people whohabitually keep their skin covered when outside eg. for religious reasons
  • very dark-skinned people
  • frail older people living in residential care or whose skin is less efficient at producing the vitamin

Current Ministry of Health advice is for people to have a smallamount of sun exposure each day to ensure adequate vitamin D status.

HFG tip

Think of ways to enjoy some outside activity every day. It will help your bone health in more ways than one. But remember – after 10 minutes or so – slip, slop, slap and wrap!

First published: May 2006



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