Both Brits and Norwegians are sun starved, but Scandinavians rarely suffer from vitamin D deficiency. What are the Norwegians doing right, asks CAMILLA SWIFT…
Why do we need vitamin D? Well, it regulates the calcium and phosphate in the body, making it vital for bone, muscle and tooth development and growth. A lack of it can lead to a higher risk of bone disease and fracture and, in the worst cases, rickets. There are also studies that suggest vitamin D can help the battle against cancers, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis.
The Scandinavians know all about this. They may only have one or two hours of sunlight in midwinter — the land of the midnight sun, and the midday darkness — but their situation is not so different from here. Look at Oslo. In mid-December last year, the sun rose at 9:08 am and set at 3:12 pm. Aberdeen on the same date? 8:33 am and 3:08 pm. Even in Edinburgh there was only five hours of sun, compared to Oslo’s six.
Why does that matter? Well, because in Norway, as in other northerly countries, people are well aware of the dangers of not getting enough vitamin D. Their food safety authority, like Britain’s, advises getting 10mg a day, and recommends sun exposure and food high in vitamin D (particularly oily fish, including cod liver oil) as a way of doing this, as well as supplements.
My Norwegian mother used to force-feed us cod liver oil, or tran, every day — as her mother did to her, and back it went through the generations, right back to the Vikings, who would even eat whole cod livers dipped in the oil. To this day, my mother still buys me pots of cod liver oil tablets. The Vikings also rubbed it on their muscles to ease pain — though it probably wasn’t as effective as ibuprofen gel.
“The Vikings also rubbed it on their muscles to ease pain — though it probably wasn’t as effective as ibuprofen gel.”
It’s also normal to encourage sunbed use; at my local gym in Oslo, there was a row of sunbed cubicles by the swimming pool, and a notice about the importance of getting enough vitamin D all year round. Of course, excessive use of sunbeds can also be dangerous, which could even be why many Brits don’t get enough vitamin D. We’re so scared of sunshine and the risk of skin cancer that we avoid it like the plague. But Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, says that we should in fact allow our sunscreen-free skin to be exposed to short bursts of sunshine — without getting burnt (or even a tan). It’s a tricky balancing act, though. I’m sure we all know someone who got a bit overexcited at this week’s sunshine and now resembles a lobster.
It’s also possible that your mental wellbeing could be helped by extra vitamin D. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) has been linked to a lack of vitamin D in the past. One town in Norway recently installed mirrors on the mountainside to reflect sun rays into the valley below.
So yes, we need sunshine and vitamin D. Not too much sunshine of course — but everything in moderation, as my mother used to say. Lagom.
CAMILLA SWIFT is Supplements Editor at The Spectator.