People regularly exposed to the sun are more likely to live longer than those who are rarely exposed, academics have said.

A study by the University of South Australia has found that a lack of vitamin D can trigger an early death.

According to the research, one in three adults living in Australia have a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Chief author Josh Sutherland said: “While severe vitamin D deficiency is rarer in Australia than elsewhere in the world, it can still affect those who have health vulnerabilities, the elderly, and those who do not acquire enough vitamin D from healthy sun exposure and dietary sources.

“Our study provides strong evidence for the connection between low levels of vitamin D and mortality, and this is the first study of its kind to also include respiratory disease related mortality as an outcome.”

He added: “We used a new genetic method to explore and affirm the non-linear relationships that we’ve seen in observational settings, and through this we’ve been able to give strong evidence for the connection between low vitamin D status and premature death.

“Vitamin D deficiency has been connected with mortality, but as clinical trials have often failed to recruit people with low vitamin D levels – or have been prohibited from including vitamin deficient participants – it’s been challenging to establish casual relationships.”

During the study, the team of scientists examined the health records of more than 300,000 people involved with the UK Biobank.

They discovered that the participants with higher vitamin D concentrations had a longer lifespan than those with a vitamin D deficiency.

Co-author Professor Elina Hyppönen said: “The take-home message here is simple – the key is in the prevention.

“It is not good enough to think about vitamin D deficiency when already facing life-challenging situations, when early action could make all the difference.”

She concluded: “It is very important to continue public health efforts to ensure the vulnerable and elderly maintain sufficient vitamin D levels throughout the year.”

The study has been published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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