Terrified of Sun, Aussies risk their bones

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Sydney, Jan 8 (UNI) Terrified of contracting skin cancer by exposing themselves to sunlight, millions of Australians are exposing themselves to bone disease, fractures, diabetes and cancers by failing to get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D-- or the Sunshine vitamin-- is a crucial nutrient produced when skin is exposed to sunlight.

Melbourne Pathology director Ken Sikaris, who oversees 1500 vitamin D tests a week, said the rate of deficiencies was ''mind-boggling''.

Dr Sikaris said people had become overly protective when it came to sunshine.

''There's a balance-- you need sunlight but don't go out in the middle of the day for an hour when the UV is most harmful,'' he was quoted by Sydney Morning Herald as saying.

Sydney endocrinologist Terry Diamond said under current recommendations 20 to 30 per cent of the population had deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D.

But he said there was emerging evidence the optimal level to maintain bone health should be 40 per cent higher than national guidelines.

''That would mean 60 to 70 per cent of the population have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D,'' Professor Diamond of St George Hospital said.

Vitamin D is converted from cholesterol in the blood by sunlight and helps increase calcium absorption in the intestine, which builds stronger bones. Australians receive about 90 per cent of their intake from sunlight production, a function that is hindered by wearing sunscreen.

But in the past six years, average daily cases at Australian hospitals of broken bones due to osteoporosis have risen from 177 to 262-- costing the medical system 1.9 billion dollars a year.

Osteoporosis Australia head Peter Ebeling said the situation had become ''very serious''.

''I think we need to do everything we can to prevent the number of broken bones that are occurring,'' he said.

Ms Rebecca Mason, of the Skin and Bone Laboratory at the University of Sydney, said some data showed vitamin D had a protective role against autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.

There was a fine line between getting enough sun exposure for adequate vitamin D levels but not too much to cause DNA damage that led to skin cancer, she said, adding ''frying yourself'' was categorically bad.

Various bone and skin organisations along with the Cancer Council released a white paper this year recommending a few minutes in the sun on a summer day outside peak UV times in the middle of the day.

UNI XC YA BST1212

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