With spring fast approaching and the days getting longer I am sure we are all looking forward to those long summer days, full of sunshine. Why should we be talking about sunshine at this gloomy time of the year? Well, it’s about that vitamin D you keep hearing about in the news.
So why is sunshine so important to us humans? It is because without vitamin D many processes in the body won’t work properly. The body will make all it needs with enough sunlight. That’s why it is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. It is one of the most important vitamins our body needs to function.
It helps with the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from food. Both of these nutrients are vital for strong teeth and bones, joints and muscles. It strengthens the immune system, supports intestinal health, helps to maintain healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health, protects the brain and reproductive organs and helps to prevent osteoporosis and breast cancer. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium from food or supplements, no matter how much calcium you consume.
Its importance cannot be underestimated. So, how does it work?
First of all, we need to be outside in the sun! But not just any time of the year, it has to be in the hottest months of summer to get any benefit at all. Unfortunately, we in the northern hemisphere only get the ‘right’ kind of sunshine for a couple of months of the year. The sun rays are not at the correct angle to the earth to be of much benefit for much of the year, which means that it is likely that the majority of the population is in fact vitamin D deficient. This can include all age groups from young children to the elderly. So what should we do to correct this dilemma?
We are forever told to plaster ourselves with sun block whenever we go outside in the summer, the higher the better, to avoid being sunburnt or getting skin cancer. The messages we get are confusing, so people will avoid any exposure to the sun. This isn’t very helpful because we can’t harness the benefits of real sunshine if our skin is blocked with sun screen creams. There is always another way!
Of course you shouldn’t leave your kids on the beach at midday in full sun with no protection whatsoever for any length of time, but 20 minutes in the sun sometime during mid to late morning or mid-afternoon with a hat and a t-shirt on, with arms and legs exposed is absolutely ideal to soak up those beneficial rays, without burning the skin. It is the sun’s ultraviolet rays that convert cholesterol under your skin into vitamin D3. It is then absorbed straight into the bloodstream and then it’s stored in the liver. A little bit at a time, 2 to 3 times a week and you can store up a good amount of vitamin D3 to last you for the rest of the year.
For those of you who don’t get out in the sun , which includes office workers, elderly in nursing homes or children who are at school or nurseries most days, would benefit from eating sardines, herring, salmon, tuna or fish liver oil, liver, egg yolks or supplementing with a good quality vitamin D3 supplement. And here comes another confusion.
Which vitamin D should we supplement with? Vitamin D2 is a synthetic version of vitamin D, added to most cereals and milk, and doesn’t have the same beneficial effects of vitamin D3. You should know that synthetic vitamin D escalates the excretion of magnesium from the body, which is harmful.
If you don’t get out in the sun then you should supplement with the natural, good quality vitamin D3 – recommended daily allowance is 400iU for adults and children.
Note: If on medication talk to your doctor or pharmacy before taking supplements.