How much sun do mancunians need?

(NC&T/UM) The two and a half year study, funded by Cancer Research UK, is looking at how effective Manchester sunlight is at raising vitamin D levels to the level the body needs. The vitamin is essential for healthy bones and a range of other organs, but found naturally in only a few foods.

Lead researcher Dr Lesley Rhodes of the Division of Medicine and Neurosciences, said: "Sunlight, acting through the skin, is essential for the body to produce vitamin D - and there is good evidence that the levels needed for bone health are higher than previously thought.

"But excess sunlight exposure causes skin cancers, while at the other end of the spectrum some people may not get the patterns of sunlight exposure they need.

"We therefore need to find out exactly how much sun exposure is required for adequate vitamin D levels. This will ensure public health messages give accurate advice on the levels and patterns of sun exposure that enhance vitamin D, while avoiding the side-effects of excess exposure."

As well as having a detrimental effect on bone health, vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle weakness and increase the risk of falls in the elderly.

Dr Rhodes continued: "We want to examine the relationship between sunlight exposure and vitamin D levels in our population, and pinpoint the sunlight exposure level required for adequate vitamin D. This will help us to advise on the right amount of exposure for best health."

Clinical Research Nurse Marie Durkin said: "In this study we're assessing how effective sunlight levels in the Greater Manchester area are at synthesising sufficient levels of vitamin D. We are looking for healthy volunteers aged 20 - 60 who live in Greater Manchester, to take part in studies observing the effects of sunlight on vitamin D blood levels.

"One group of volunteers will be given a course of simulated sunlight exposure using medicinal lamps this winter, while another will be monitored throughout the coming year to assess the impact of local sunlight exposure. The effect on vitamin D levels will be assessed through blood samples."

Dr Rhodes concluded: "The results of the study will inform public health messages on recommended sunlight exposure, not just in Manchester but across the UK."

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's deputy director of cancer information, said: "Cancer Research UK is committed to reviewing all the available evidence on the complex subject of vitamin D and UV exposure. We are pleased to fund this study to improve our understanding of vitamin D levels in people living in the UK."

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