The Magic of Sunshine and Vitamin D

We’ve had a patch of amazing sunshine of late (followed by some very, very refreshing rain), and I feel It’s time to send a little reminder to make the most of the sun… when we can, for the sake of our health physically, emotionally and spiritually.There’s been some great research over the past few years regarding the importance of vitamin D to our health and well-being and as Summer is (kind-of) here it’s an important time for building our reserves.

A healthy level of Vitamin D is vital to all of us, in fact most organs of the human body respond to sunshine and vitamin D… it helps us to maintain appropriate levels of calcium in our bones, and to feel well. It’s especially important to have a reserve for the Winter months so that we don’t feel gloomy. The good news is that vitamin D is fat soluble so it can be stored in the body for long periods of time until needed (so stocking up on holidays and in the summer months will help toward much happier and healthier winter months).

Research since the 70′s has suggested links between low levels of vitamin D and muscle weakness, heaviness in legs, chronic musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, frequent infections, depression and childhood conditions such as asthma and autism. More recent research has found possible links between Vitamin D deficiency and cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, chronic pain where there are no other obvious causes and auto-immune conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, MS and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Recently there has been evidence of increased incidences of rickets in young children resulting from being breastfed by mothers with insufficient vitamin D levels.

The ‘sunshine vitamin’ may also accelerate the healing of tissue and cells, and reduce the risk of cells becoming malignant. Vitamin D has of late been touted as a preventative measure for seasonal flu’s (including bird and swine flu), due to vitamin D’s positive effects on immunity. It’s also vitally important for a healthy pregnancy.

Today 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient!

The In’s and Out’s of Vitamn D…

Vitamin D appears in almost all tissue of the human body and we obtain roughly 50% from food and 50% from the suns rays. So it’s really important to have a healthy balanced diet including (sustainable) oily fish and (free range & organic) eggs, (organic grass fed)butter, without overdoing any one group. In addition it’s important to know the tricks to obtain optimum levels from the sun.

The rays of the sun reach us in two forms – UVA and UVB…

UVB rays launch the productions of Vitamin D within the body when they hit the skin. These rays can’t penetrate glass or clothing. Basically the suns UVB rays hit the skin, convert a form of cholesterol to vitamin D, which sits on the skin and is absorbed into the body over the next 48 hours.

UVA rays on the other hand are long rays which penetrate deeply into the skin and don’t cause sunburn. These rays speed the ageing process and wrinkles, and are believed to cause Melanoma cancers. They pass through clothes and glass but don’t prompt the body to make vitamin D.

When received together UVB and UVA rays form a healthy balance, allowing you to tan without the dangers associated with just UVA rays. When UVA rays shine on the skin, an ‘anti-vitamin D’ is formed. This destroys vitamin D levels in the blood in order to keep things in balance… basically so that you don’t overdose on the vitamin when outdoors for long periods of time.

So, it’s important to get UVB rays directly from the sun (and not just UVA rays exclusively).

The suns rays are most effective in the middle of the day, at low altitudes and in the Spring/Summer/Autumn months where pollution and cloud levels are low. Depending on the pigment levels of your skin and the climate in which you live, 30 minutes of sun exposure with bare arms and legs (and more exposed skin if possible) each day in midday summertime is said to produce 20,000 IU (which is the equivalent of around 50 typical vitamins). Ideally spending time in the sun until the point when the skin just goes pink and not any longer without the protection of clothing or sunscreen is ideal, that way your body receives its vitamin D boost without burning.

Another thing to consider is sunscreen. It prevents UVB rays from being absorbed by the skin and the higher the SPF the less rays are absorbed (in fact it’s suspected that sunscreen concentrates the radiation of the suns rays on the skins surface causing irreversible damage). So, a little time without sunscreen each day is beneficial, then covering up or using a low chemical sunscreen so that your skin doesn’t burn.

If you are overweight you will need a higher intake of vitamin D because the fat cells in the body absorb the vitamin. The higher the Melanin content in your skin and therefore the the darker it is, the less vitamin D is developed by your bay from the suns rays. Therefore people with naturally dark or tanned skin may be more deficient. Age also has an impact, as we age we produce less of the vitamin D pre-curser in our skin and need more time in the sun.

So, take advantage of the sun when it’s shining and be sure to eat a balanced diet. More later in the year about supplementation if needed… we’ll see how the Summer pans out!

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