With all this glorious sunshine it seems appropriate to talk about Vitamin D: the sunshine vitamin.
Vitamin D is quite hard to obtain naturally from our diets, but when sunlight touches our skin something magical happens and Vitamin D is synthesised.
I won’t go into the biology here of how this inert vitamin is synthesised (processed by our body) as I am not a chemist or biologist and don’t want to get distracted.
Why is Vitamin D such an important Vitamin?
Well, it helps promote calcium absorption. Simply put, it helps the gut absorb it. This is done with assistance from the parathyroid hormone. Once the parathyroid hormone activates Vitamin D it will help us absorb it by up to four times. As calcium is essential for strong, healthy bones Vitamin D helps us to build these stronger bones. It also helps build muscle strength. It prevents rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, and osteoporosis in older adults. These are important, especially as we age and are more prone to falling.
Vitamin D has been found to help the immune system. In fact they used to put patients suffering from TB into the sun to kill the tuberculosis (bacteria), and cod liver oil has also been used as a treatment; both rich sources of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus and multiple sclerosis to name just a few.
Help with Cancer
Cancer researchers are looking at links between Vitamin D deficiency and the risk of cancer.
“Early epidemiologic research showed that incidence and death rates for certain cancers were lower among individuals living in southern latitudes, where levels of sunlight exposure are relatively high, than among those living at northern latitudes. Because exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight leads to the production of vitamin D, researchers hypothesized that variation in vitamin D levels might account for this association”.
It should be mentioned however, that research results have been inconsistent. Some have suggested that any significant positive effects may be due more to the fact that individuals that are outside more, or eating more dietary Vitamin D will have a healthier type of lifestyle.
Research has also indicated that Vitamin D deficiency may play a part in heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
“…Several large studies have shown that people with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other heart-related event during follow-up, compared with those with higher vitamin D levels.”
Where we can get Vitamin D from
Dietary- fatty/oily fish (sardines, salmon etc), fish oil, eggs, as well as some foods which are fortified with Vitamin D (some cereals, margarine, milk).
*Too much of anything can be bad for you , and the same applies with Vitamin D; too much can be toxic*
How much sunlight do we need?
The NHS says that if we are out in the sun wearing shorts and/or a t shirt, without sun protection, just short periods (5-10minutes) can be enough to enable the body to make Vitamin D. You MUST be careful not to burn, and not overdo it. Also the colour and type of skin will have a bearing on this.
The NHS now advises taking supplements over the Autumn and Winter months:
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency may include:
- Aching bones, joints and muscles
- Lack of /poor sleep
- Low mood
- Weight gain
- Abdominal problems, such as general discomfort
- Frequent illnesses or infections
- Poor wound healing
- Hair loss
This list is not exhaustive.
If you think you may be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency, see your healthcare provider and try and get a blood test.
So, with the new research available, perhaps the ‘Mediterranean diet’ is in itself not wholly responsible for a healthier life; perhaps it is in combination with all the sunshine that the real benefits are acquired.
Plus, we all know how good it is to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin and the way everything just seems so much better when it’s warm, bright and sunny (well, in my humble opinion anyway).