A new report finding that a majority of Germans lack sufficient vitamin D has set off a debate in the country between dermatologists and nutritionists, who recommend a simple, natural remedy for gaining more of the essential vitamin: sunshine.
Jakob Linseisen of the Helmholtz Center in Munich likes to sit outside in the sun after lunch and enjoy his cup of coffee. He never has the urge to lather on sunscreen first. And when he has to walk across campus of the environmental health research center for meetings with colleagues, he makes sure to push his shirtsleeves up so that a little sunlight gets on his arms.
Of course, Linseisen knows that too much exposure to ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer. But the nutritionist also worries that people are also getting too little direct sunlight. Ultraviolet rays help the skin produce the hormone vitamin D, which, among other things, leads to strong bones.
Linseisen and other experts contributed to a report released by the German Nutrition Society (DGE) concluding that most Germans suffer from vitamin D deficiencies. It recommends that older people, especially, should get an extra 20 micrograms of vitamin D daily, either through tablets or from sunlight.
With their advice, Linseisen and his colleagues have touched off a heated debate with dermatologists over whether or not it is justifiable to recommend that people spend more time in the sun. So far, the appeals made by dermatologists have served to keep people away from the cancer-causing UV rays.
“The debate over vitamin D deficiencies is extremely timely,” confirms Dr. Jörg Reichrath, a senior physician in the dermatology department of Saarland University Medical Center, which also took part in the German Nutrition Society’s study. “A lot is currently happening.”
A working group of experts across Germany for dermatological prevention is also involved in the issue, and, along with other associations, will soon publish new recommendations.